"The Festering Ones" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Amazon Digital Services
Written by S.H. Cooper
2019, 135 pages, Fiction
Released on 1st October, 2019
If you are seeking a quick and fast-paced slice of cosmic horror, then S.H. Cooper’s The Festering Ones could be the novella to dip your nose into for a couple of hours. This tight story crams much into its 135 pages and gets off the ground running with an outstanding opening sentence:
The first time I saw it was the last time I saw my father.
The story is narrated by Faith York, who is reflecting upon the final time she saw her father alive and the psychological impact this terrifying incident had upon her; shadowing her entire childhood and beyond, well into her twenties. Her life has been littered with a host of psychologists, therapists and a whole load of medication to dull the pain of her loss and the nightmares, which go hand-in-hand with it. This ordeal occurs in the opening sequences when nine-year-old Faith is embarking upon her first overnight camping trip with her father, climbing up White Crow Mountain. After a restless night of creaking noises and whispering trees the pair hit the trail looking for a deer to bag. Whilst rambling in the woods they stumble upon a body of what looks like a dead naked woman, which quickly springs into life morphing into a spiderlike creature which instantly wraps itself around her father and drags him down a hole never to be seen again:
It was the only time I ever heard Dad scream.
The narrative then jumps twenty years forward to the death of Faith’s mother from cancer. Over the intervening period the medication and shrinks have almost convinced Faith the spider monster did not exist, and she almost believes their assumptions. Except at night, when the foul creature invades her dreams. When going through her mother’s possessions, Faith discovers an old folder of clippings and other research material and realises that her mother, although she always denied it, had believed her story all along, secretly carrying out her own research into the disappearance of her husband. Invigorated, Faith continues her very dangerous investigation and The Festering Ones begins to move through the gears.
Written in the first person, once the scene is set the novella moves at a gallop, taking in mysterious cults, dodgy librarians and very nasty otherworldly evil. Other characters are thrown into the mix, and the closer Faith gets to the cult (‘The Gathered’), the more dangerous things become for her. Right from the start Faith is a badly damaged character, but that is part of her charm and she is a great girl to root for, especially when the truth sinks in; she is never crazy, but the alternatives are even more terrifying. Even if she is not mad, Faith goes through the wringer and resilient she might me, is equally fragile and often on the point of emotional collapse.
There are several other impressive aspects to the story, including the clever use of local folklore, strong pacing and a supernatural angle which makes great use of cosmic horror in the Lovecraftian tradition. Without going into specifics, the world S.H. Cooper develops around her gods and monsters is highly convincing and presents the cult as a truly frightening proposition. I found The Festering Ones to be a very solid read, which I whizzed through in no time, strengthened by a terrific lead character and a dark lurking evil twitching around the corner which is able to use multiple guises to trap its next victim.
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