Sinister Horror Company (September 17, 2016)
Over the last few years, the vampire genre has. For want of a better phrase, become a bit long in the tooth. They have lost their ability to frighten, reduced to emo-ridden leading actor status with as much bite as a toothless hamster.
Thankfully we have gifted writers like Rich Hawkins to take back the night and turn the vampire into a creature that should be feared once more. King Carrion dust off the glitter puts away the leather jacket and buries any notion of romantic entanglement in a cold, dirty grave far beyond the reach of love-struck teenage girls and the writers who seem hell bent on ruining a genre.
Hawkins use of an age-old, God-Like master vampire is a stroke of genius. The prologue of the novella set in Roman era Britain introduces us to the master vampire, a ragged, feral creature, more akin to a force of nature. In fact, his description of the monster and it's relationship with the natives is more akin to a sort of "Anti Herne the Hunter." A God of the night to be feared, but a God that will protect his kin. Animalistic, powerful, cunning, and total alien to the natural world. Hawkins use of lean narrative works perfectly to convey the sheer menace of the vampire Many authors would have over described the creature and his motives, but Hawkins strips away all excessive exposition to reveal the primal nature of King Carrion. With just a few descriptive lines we are left with the clear and frightening image and motives of the creature.
The lean and punchy narrative is carried on throughout the rest of the novella, allowing King Carrion's story to fly along at breakneck speed.
Hawkins brief descriptive passages of a town overrun with vampires is a powerhouse of scene setting excellence. The section that deals with our heroes attempt to flee to safety is a thrilling ride that evokes a sense of dread and dispair similar to that found in the scenes of a decimated London in 28 Days Later.
Hawkins has a real gift for giving his stories a deep-rooted sense of desolation and forlornness, and King Carrion is no exception. Even our hero is a sad washed out alcoholic with a heavy burden to bear. He is not a character that you like. The clever way in which Hawkins manages to keep your feelings for Mason on a pendulum is inspired. Just when you think you are beginning to, not so much like him, but feel for his plight and his personal demons, Hawkins rips the rug from beneath your feet and has Mason do or say something that makes you hate him again. You want him to survive, but you don't necessarily want him to get what he wants, particularly when his private life is concerned. A well thought out character, who throughout the novella is allowed to be human in a world gone mad with vampires.
King Carrion is one of those stories that has intelligent and subtle nods to some of the greats of the vampire knowledge. My personal favourite is a scene where Mason first encounters a family that has been attacked by King Carrion, the pure unadulterated sense of terror that is invoked by this smart nod to Salem's Lot is perfectly balanced. The nods and winks are handled with a deft touch; they never intrude on the story or jar the flow of the narrative.
King Carrion is without a doubt one of the best vampire stories I have read in recent years. Blockbuster action set pieces mixed with a melancholic personal story, and a hero that couldn't be more of an antihero if he tried makes for a novella that is worthy to stand proudly with the time honoured classic of the genre.
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