Ginger Nuts of Horror
A house of severed heads on hooks…alliteration and imagery packed into one line, so what’s not to like?
Initially, the reader is introduced to Brennan Wade, an Adonis of a man seemingly caught in a web of mysterious confusion—reality is a bonafide illusion, and Brennan is being held captive and tested like a homicidal lab rat on steroids.
The conflict presented in the exposition of this story is deeper than originally expected, as the ancient duality of life presents itself—Good versus Evil. The reader becomes privy to the realization that Brennan Wade is part of something much larger and more sinister, but luckily for him his “black sheep” reject status, combined with some help from two “adoptive” parental figures, safeguards his survival through childhood and adolescence. Ironically, Brennan’s next antidote might stem from a cloned brother named Thomas he never superficially realized even existed.
Thomas, an unlikely antihero turned Hans Solo due to a spiritual reawakening, spends much of the novel doing damage control, trying to make up for the sins committed during his first eight lives. Consequently, most readers will likely fall for Thomas as he displays a complex blend of everyman characteristics bound with trained killer instincts. The reader will be left with a few open-ended questions concerning Thomas, but I’m quite certain the next book in the series will provide some justification.
Readers will meet Joan midway through the book, and she is a survivor by all accounts. She’s smart, witty, and tough; Joan eventually segues into a love interest with Brennan that fortifies itself throughout the story’s rising action, climax, and resolution. Honestly, I’m not a fan of traditional romance in thriller-esque horror stories, but I know there is a huge following for this sort of thing. Consequently, I’m sure many readers will be drawn to it. As for me I’d rather read the gritty “what ifs” when love interests never really solidify.
Literarily speaking, this story has a lot going for it. In addition to the aforementioned comments concerning the thematic inclusion of dualism, author Ryan McSwain incorporates several allegorical elements and lots of embedded color symbolism. Hence, Monsters All the Way Down is much more than a mere pop fiction read. The antagonist cited as the Old Man is cryptically old, and the historical allusions connected to him are of paramount interest. Plus, the Old Man’s behaviors, thought processes, flashbacks, and lineage make him directly representative of Old Scratch. It doesn’t take the reader long to discover he is more than just a soul-sucker, and his omniscient qualities spearhead a cacophony of fear into all his victims, both past and present.
Personally, I’d say the horror elements presented in this first installment of what author Ryan McSwain titles a “loose” trilogy are a complex blend of Lovecraft meets King. Based on the title readers should expect monsters, and Mr. McSwain does an excellent job of presenting them both literally and figuratively. This isn’t the type of read that provides an overabundance of shotgun pumping in advance of exploding heads, and I really appreciated that. Oftentimes, the fear is subtly crafted, but the realization that people are sometimes hunted while their heads are severed and kept as trophies is deliciously frightening. Why? Because things like that happen from time to time in our sordid world. For those readers who crave literal monsters, they will have to wait closer towards the book’s end. But rest assured, for all the plain and unvarnished monster lovers out there, Mr. McSwain will satisfy your appetites per his final series of combat scenes. And wait, the weapon of choice in this book is truly unique—the garrote. And trust me when I say the garrote rears its ugly head (bad pun intended) time and time again for all you gore hounds out there.
Part Dexter in The Dark Tower meets It, and part Supernatural meets “Bat Out of Hell,” readers will undoubtedly look over their shoulders while reading this book. Only time will tell if God will indeed bless Texas, and paranoia often strikes thrice; hence, I’m looking forward to books two and three in author Ryan McSwain’s trilogy.
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewer: Kurt Schuett
After a routine DNA background check, Brennan Wade is on the run for murders he does not remember committing. Pursued by a shadow agency, he fights to clear his name and catch the true killer. Brennan forges an uneasy alliance with Joan Runciter, the only woman to survive an attack, and together they delve into a world of secret history and ancient horror. As the body count rises and his true nature is revealed, Brennan must decide if the world’s salvation is worth his own corruption.
Monsters All the Way Down contains an intriguing blend of Philip K. Dick’s mind-bending paranoia and H. P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror. Ryan McSwain uses complex characters and familiar ideas to craft a story full of twists to keep you guessing right up to the end and beyond.
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