"Lambs Among Wolves" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Silver Shamrock Publishing
Written by Russell James
2021, 316 pages, Fiction
Released on 5th July 2021
Lambs Among Wolves lays its cards slap bang on the middle of the table in its opening chapter with a demon lurking within the walls of Abbey Santo Marco whilst Brother Eduardo prays inside one of the monastery’s secluded chapels. A few pages later, Eduardo and all the other monks have been slaughtered by the creature, setting off a chain of events which is at the core of the plot. On one hand, this first chapter gives a solid indication of the demon infestation fun you can look forward to, but on the other, it is also the overwhelming weakness of Lambs Among Wolves. The manner in which the demons are described is incredibly bland and repetitive, failing miserably to instill an ounce of fear with top-heavy cartoon caricatures akin to the baddies in Scooby-Doo. Here is an example from the opening chapter:
The hooded demon squatted behind him. The glowing green eyes with black slit pupils burned inches from his face. Within the inky recess of the hood, the demon’s mouth opened and a jagged set of razor teeth delivered an unholy smile.
Considering the strength and depth of horror fiction currently on the market, authors must produce something more original than “glowing green eyes with black slit pupils” and “jagged set of razor teeth” to catch the attention of their readers. I would recommend avoiding such bland cliches and instead let the imaginative juices flow by delivering a creature which genuinely jumps from the page. I appreciate not everybody has the skills to create the infernal beasts lurking within an Adam Nevill novel, but for a story to be taken seriously, they have to do better than this. Church the cat in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is a great example of how to accomplish this with great skill; there is something truly malevolent and unsettling in the way the resurrected cat jerkily moves around the house, with the unnaturalness of it oozing from the page. Lambs Among Wolves completely lacks this and since all the demons are presented in an almost identical manner, it limits the book significantly. Even the more powerful demons, which appear in the later stages of the novel, are startlingly unoriginal.
Whilst the creatures are weak, much of the rest of Lambs Among Wolves is a more entertaining read, with the overall story moving at a decent lick, opening in both America and France before the big finish in Rome. The main character is Catholic priest Father Jack Cahill, who specialises in exorcisms and does the demonic cleansing the church refuses to admit exists to the outside world. In the early stages of the story, we realise that demonic activity is on the increase and when this happens, the church does not call Ghostbusters, they call Father Jack. The priest has a complex relationship with church elders, who frown upon his insistence to conduct services in Latin, but as their top exorcist they let him do his own thing and turn a blind eye to his eccentricities. This is one of the strongest parts of the story. Even though the elderly priest is not immediately likable, he has serious spunk, resilience and a certain cool gravitas. The glimpses of the inner workings of the church and its attitude towards exorcism also caught my attention, and the conflict such an ancient ritual has in the modern world is nicely portrayed.
Teenager Cyndi Fisher is the second main character and when she is introduced has just buried her father, whom she helped care for in the latter stages of his life. Following his death, she is sent money to visit Paris from someone claiming to be the grandfather she never knew existed. Having nothing to lose, she gets on the plane and soon meets Father Jack and after a close encounter with a demon, they team up. They are an interesting pair and although I would not exactly call them buddy movie material, they bounce off each other well and their relationship grew on me. Having an aged renegade exorcist hanging out with a sassy teenage agnostic is refreshing and features some entertaining scenes, even if Cyndi is the junior partner until near the end. At various points I wished the teenager was given more to do, rather than just hang on Jack’s coattails being confused as she came to realise demons truly do exist.
Demons start to pop up all over the place, and although some of these scenes are rather samey, the book picks up momentum and comes across as a blend of Dan Brown (uncovering religious clues) and Indiana Jones (looking for old relics) as they try to prevent the end of the world. Too many of the demon sequences are isolated incidents and they never truly cut loose until near the end. when there are more possessions and increasingly powerful manifestations. However, the big finale also includes a very strong demon, who is a major disappointment; would such a significant figure curse like a spoilt teenager? He fails to instil the fear such a character should have done and I felt Hell would have provided something more eye-catching and freaky to unsettle the reader than this lightweight. Once again I am returning to the rather bland descriptions. After reading Lambs Among Wolves, I moved on to Brom’s Slewfoot, which absolutely blows this novel away, being littered with vividly drawn hellish creatures, some of which would have been very welcome within the pages of this story.
If you’re after a light and easy read, then Lambs Among Wolves might do the trick and perhaps the descriptions might not mean as much to you as they did to me. The novel neither takes itself too seriously nor is a deep read and covers a lot of ground without ever going into too much detail as it speeds from France to Rome. Father Jack is a cool dude but it is a shame that his adversaries are more like muppets than demons.
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