Saturday, 9 December 2017

Horror in the Clouds (2017) by Scott Shoyer - Horror Book Review

When it comes to reading eBooks I am a lot better than I once was, however I realise I really am not the fastest reader around. On the plus side though I find it rare that I get sent a book for review that I don't like in one way or another, and this one is no different. I first heard of Scott Shoyer back in 2015 when I did a news post about his book Outbreak: The Hunger (the Outbreak books now form a trilogy). Horror in the Clouds is his latest novel that was released in August this year, it is the fourth one of his to be published by Severed Press and it is based on Lovecraft's Cosmic Horror. That subject is a double edged sword for me as H.P Lovecraft is my favourite horror author and no one can match his skill at creating genuine terror with words. On the other hand though I love any story that takes on similar themes to his.

Damien Squire, his wife, and son Brandon are on a family vacation to visit the Grand Canyon when they make the mistake staying in the remote town of Derleth. The people of Derleth worship an ancient evil; an Elder God named N'Xabez that is trapped between this world and its own. For hundreds of years the townsfolk have sacrificed visitors in order to give this being power, but with the arrival of the Squires everything changes, it seems N'Xabez has found a way to escape its prison and that this particular family hold the key to it doing so...

Horror in the Clouds is a simple story in that it doesn't really bog itself down with a myriad of subplots, instead everything here seems relevant to the overarching plot. There are basically two different plot threads going on, first of all you have the Squires family vacation, and secondly it follows some key members of the cult that secretly rule Derleth, and their realisation that a big change is coming. I have no idea why but right until the books end I was getting confused with Damien and Brandon in that I kept forgetting which was which, my fault entirely but a point I felt was worth mentioning. The Squires are mostly a normal enough family, it is Damien that has demons in his past with a mentioned suicide attempt. This means when he first glimpses the titular 'horror in the clouds' (a great title that I'm sure Lovecraft would have approved of) and mentions it to his family they become concerned he is slipping back into his mental illness. The cult storyline on the other hand feels different in that we are essentially following the antagonists (well, agents of the antagonists), my favourite of these was Sheriff Landry whose family have protected the secrets of Derleth for generations, yet his knowledge of exactly what he is helping keep under wraps is not really understood that well and so as he finds answers so do we. I liked how he was duty bound to essentially act like a bad guy (in context of the story) yet found himself at odds with the lunacy of the cult leader's behaviour.

My favourite aspect of this novel is the many descriptions of N'Xabez and his home world. I loved the idea that to see any part of this God is to see it as a whole and be turned instantly insane. It's a cool idea to have this being hidden up in the clouds with his sacrifices being collected by a huge tentacle coming down to Earth to sweep up it's victims. It leads to a visually appealing finale that without detailing spoilers features at least a few tentacles described as skyscraper sized!. Several characters have dreams or visions of the creatures home planet which sounds suitably terrifying with land, air and sea full of creatures nearly as bad as N'Xabez. With ancient evil the mystery cannot be helped, here though there is pieces of a puzzle that eventually combine into quite a meaty explanation for just what it is, where it has come from, why it was able to do what it did and more. This mostly satisfies rather than takes away the mystique and power this thing has as a foe.

Horror in the Clouds reads like a horror film, the simplicity of the tale translates well into clear visualisation throughout, from the strange stone structures just out of town, to the initial sighting of the creature as Damien drives his family up a narrow mountain road, and the encounters with the crazy locals. If anything it is the interactions with these locals who take away from the feeling of ancient horror. After all, being chased through the woods by crazies is a lot more relatable (comparatively) than the Eldritch horror of madness inducing older than time unimaginables. This is all written in an easy to read style that doesn't get bogged down in detail, but gives enough to conjure up images.

With Scott Shoyer's Horror in the Clouds you have a fun horror that effortlessly tells the story it wants to tell, it never reaches the heights of Lovecraft, but that isn't much of a slight when he is untouchable in his literary form. As I said in my introduction to this review I do love any story that explores similar topics to his and so for this novel I give a rotted thumbs up.


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