"The Fearing" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Grey Matter Press
Written by John F.D. Taff
2019, 500 pages, Fiction
Released in 4 parts between April-Nov 2019
If you’re a reader of horror and have been oblivious to the buzz surrounding John F.D. Taff’s The Fearing over the last six months, you must have been living on the moon. Last July, part one of this excellent four-novella sequence dropped, with the final section being published very recently. Like many other paying customers who was catching it upon release, my tongue was hanging out waiting for the next fix. This article will tackle The Fearing in the same way I would a standard book review and, it might seem obvious, but make sure you read the four in the correct sequence! Or even better, buy them all now. They are:
- Part 1: Fire and Rain
- Part 2: Water and Wind
- Part 3: Air and Dust
- Part 4: Earth and Ember
In promoting the book, Taff has been guesting in various podcasts, outlining the complex journey The Fearing had making it into print. Having originally shopped his 500+ page epic to several publishers, who although they were positive about it, did not believe he was a big enough name to carry a book of that size. When it was eventually bought by Grey Matter Press, editor Anthony Rivera suggested releasing the book into four novella-length chunks. The story remains the same, but it went through some restructuring to make it a smoother fit for this new format.
For a book released in parts, it does exactly what it is supposed to do; quickly sucks the reader in and leaves them hanging for the next instalment. If you’re reading this after the publication of part four, you do not have to suffer the pain of the cliff-hangers and can enjoy reading this great book straight through. It’s also worth pointing out that there are no recaps at the start of each section, so it should read exactly like a novel. Looking back, I would have preferred to have read it as a single work, as a sense of detachment from the story is inevitable upon returning after a couple of months away, which is strongest between parts two into three.
Loaded with cryptically cool chapter titles, The Fearing is a highly enjoyable apocalyptic horror novel with the central theme of fear running through a series of survival subplots which slowly integrate into a single strand. It opens with a young man, who enticingly drifts in and out of the story, Adam Sigel, who is both scared and isolated, but also seems to have the ability to sense individual fears within others. More crucially, he can manipulate the terror they exude, and this makes him exceptionally dangerous.
In all the best apocalyptic novels we have a host of characters battling for survival and The Fearing is top heavy with well-drawn ordinary folk. In Missouri, a massive tornado destroys a town and we follow three very different teenage survivors: Sarah Langford, Kyle DeMarco and Carli Robinson, who struggle to relate to the disaster and bicker amongst themselves. Bridging the age gap, the next group of characters are elderly travellers on a bus heading to Phoenix when a huge earthquake forces Marcia and Glen Schlimpert and Charles and Wanda Trammel to put their lives in the hands of their bus driver, who attempts to find an alternative route but instead finds total destruction. They might be aged, but this group of versatile and quick-witted old-timers quickly band together into a tight unit and are very good company. Earthquakes, tornadoes and all sorts of crazy stuff are only the beginning of their problems and Taff blends it all nicely in a well-judged and paced story.
As Fire and Blood bleeds into Wind and Water, Taff expands upon the ripple effect of diverse apocalyptic events into something more coherent, which remains interconnected through the theme of fear and begins to slowly layer in more details beyond the isolated incidents. As well as continuing with the original characters, Wind and Water introduces a few new faces, including Reverend Mark Hubert, who takes a strange teenage girl, ‘Monday’, under his wing. The preacher refuses to abandon his Baptist church when a massive hurricane batters the coastline and questions his sanity when he sees creatures flying through the sky, as well as people who have been sucked up into the atmosphere by the vicious hurricane-strength winds. There is a small drop in intensity throughout part three, but that might because it was quite a while since I had read the preceding section. However, the disappearance of key characters for long periods in that section also plays a part.
In one podcast, Taff insists nobody would be able to predict where the story’s ultimate direction lay. I would dispute this statement; that is not to say the ending is weak, just that it recalls many others in the supernatural post-apocalyptic sub-genre. Once all the cards are on the table, the direction it takes becomes relatively obvious, so it probably starts better than it finishes. Comparisons with the giants of the genre, Robert McCammon’s Swan Song and Stephen King’s The Stand, are inevitable, but The Fearing lacks the depth of character, originality and vision to mix with these masterworks, even if it does have many similarities. These are very minor criticisms, overall this is a very strong and compelling slice of genre fiction with a solid mix of engaging characters, action, and an apocalypse with a gripping vision of the end of days. Just to reiterate; Iooking back, I would rather have read this as a single novel, but Anthony Rivera has provided very fine editorial support in converting a sizable book into four novellas which flow beautifully together.
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