"MONSTRE: Volume One" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Super Hoot Publishing
Written by Duncan Swan
2020, 476 pages, Fiction
Released on September 15th, 2020
You ever hear of CERN? If so, awesome, I don’t have to try and explain it to you. If not…well, I can’t explain it to you. Basically, it’s a laboratory that does something with particle physics. It also has this giant machine called the Large Hadron Collider and it slams particles together. It’s all very sciency and I only have a vague grasp on all of it. What I do know, though, is from the moment it went live, people feared it would create a mini black hole that would only expand in size and we’d all get eaten up by it. That didn’t happen. But in Duncan Swan’s book, MONSTRE: Volume One, something does happen. And it isn’t a black hole, it’s a tear in the dimension and the monsters that come through that tear are what we’re going to be eaten by.
Man, I love apocalyptic books. I just enjoy this idea of possibly being one of a few survivors making my way across a wasteland, trying to find a better life. I know I wouldn’t last three days without electricity, but still. I wouldn’t mind living in the universes of Stephen King’s The Stand or Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, but I think I’m going to pass on Swan’s MONSTRE.
First, there is a creeping darkness making its way from Switzerland to cover the world. It’s bad enough that it's constantly cold, but there’s also something in the air that if you breathe it, it kills you. And if that doesn’t do you in, the beasts that are coming with that darkness will. It’s a lose/lose situation. If I’m going to have to go without the comforts of heat and television, I’ll be damned if I do it in the dark and running for my life. A man has to have a code.
MONSTRE is a great end-of-the-world book told through multiple points of view. In the US, you have a group led by a former cop making their way across the states, trying to get to the West Coast. Of course, they are trying to avoid people like Clay, a reluctant member of a group who attacks others to take their supplies and women, leaving the men dead. Meanwhile, in Europe, you have a military unit, led by the cop's son, heading to the source of the cloud in order to destroy it. The novel is told not just from these different groups, but also via different timelines, but it’s never confusing.
Swan uses this approach to storytelling much to his advantage. With multiple threads going on, once MONSTRE gets moving, each chapter becomes an episode that ends on a cliffhanger and it’s frustratingly delightful. There were times I felt like I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see what happened next, only to get to the end of the chapter. But that was okay, because that just meant I was jumping into where I left off on a prior cliffhanger. To say I was Swan’s dancing monkey would probably be apt.
Like most great apocalyptic novels, whether the cause is zombies, sickness, nuclear war, or something else, Swan makes the book about the people as opposed to the root of the problem. Sure, there are beasts, but they make up a tiny portion of this entry (more on this in a minute). Right now, MONSTRE is all about getting all of the pieces into place, getting things ready for the ultimate showdown. Because I need to prepare you: This is only the first book.
That’s right, this is only the first part of I don’t know how many books. Swan takes his time with it. Ironically (or maybe not), MONSTRE is a little light on the actual monsters but has plenty of human ones. That’s okay, though. For the duration of the book, I wasn’t wondering where the beasts were at. I was too engrossed in the story Swan is telling. Sure, a lot of the characters are a bit cookie-cut and stereotypical, making this ripe for a TV or movie series, but there are also people like Clay, who’s probably the most interesting person in the book. Yeah, he’s a real son of a bitch, but he’s also likable, even if he does awful things. He’s going to be the one I watch over the course of this series (and oh yes, I’m eager to read more) because he’s the one that is the ripest for growth.
Another thing I like about MONSTRE is Swan treats his characters with realism. There are no kid gloves for his heroes. They get beat up, shot, stabbed, and even killed. That’s something I love; an author who can and will kill their creation. Sure, some are set up to be cannon fodder, that’s normal, but it’s not often a protagonist dies a non-hero’s death.
What’s most surprising is this is Duncan Swan’s debut novel. He has no right delivering a book this good as his first publication, but here we are. Go get it.
This page includes affiliate links where Horror DNA may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.