Billy Kingston is a husband and father who lives with his wife, Megan and their young son, Nelson, in the small town of Brookwell. They have a simple, yet happy life when one day, Nelson turns up missing and not long after, a man out walking his dog finds the boy's mutilated body being picked apart by a flock of birds. After Billy and his wife bury their son, their marriage begins falling apart, but Billy doesn't really care. He grieves alone and takes solace in booze, visiting the bar almost every night. One of the bartenders, Marlon, befriends Billy and despite Marlon's strange sense of humour, the two hit it off.
Not long after Nelson's death, Billy sits alone in front of his computer. He's horrified when he receives an email showing each grisly detail of his son's murder, and then discovers the killing has been broadcast on the Internet for those who get off watching that kind of thing. Determined to find out who the murderer is, Billy sets out on his mission, but realises that when someone doesn't want to be found, the task is close to impossible. To help his mind come to terms with his son's death, Billy takes up painting portraits of his deceased boy and continues drinking each night away.
Billy's heading home from the bar one evening when he's approached by a woman who calls herself Dr. Verity. The woman explains to Billy that she can help him locate the person who murdered his son and proposes a unique form of justice for the man responsible. She even promises to bring his son back from the dead if he agrees to help her. Desperate, Billy reluctantly goes along with her plans. The two end up in a place called the Wastelands where Dr. Verity explains that she needs Billy to perform a “cleansing,” which is a sort of ritual used to cleanse a soul of evil, before the soul has the chance to act on its evil. Let's just say that a bad person is sent back in time (so to speak) to an age before they become evil, and the impending evil is removed from that person's soul. The person whose soul is cleansed then becomes part of the Wastelands. Dr. Verity and Billy perform these cleansings for years, but they still can't find Nelson's killer.
Billy becomes frustrated that even with Dr. Verity's help, he still can't bring justice to Nelson's killer so he sets out on his own. As he continues searching for his son's killer, Billy meets a woman named Rena. Rena is a drug addict whose son was also kidnapped and murdered. Through no fault of their own, they have sex (It all makes sense in the book) and she gets pregnant with Billy's child. Billy, knowing his marriage is over, decides to make a life with Rena and their baby, Christopher.
Here's where things become complicated. Nothing is as it seems and the people you think you can trust - well, you probably can't trust them at all. The plot for Wastleland Gods is complex, and there a dozen twists and turns along the way, but the author does a tremendous job of keeping everything straight for the reader. Never did I feel confused or wonder exactly what it was I was reading. I can't really go into other plot details, because as I said, it's complicated and I really don't fancy getting yelled at if I accidentally give something away. I will tell you that the ending was one I NEVER saw coming, and I am getting pretty good at spotting an impending plot twist.
The characterisation in Wasteland Gods was the first thing that captured my attention. Within a couple of pages I felt like I had a connection with Billy, and the grief and tension between he and Megan after Nelson's death was palpable. Billy continues changing and growing throughout the entire novel and you honestly hope he can solve the mysteries that lie before him, and at the same time, move on with his life after his son's death.
I am friends with Jonathan Woodrow on Facebook and have been for a while. (I'm telling you this for a specific reason.) On Facebook, the author comes across as a very quiet guy, at least to me. He doesn't post a lot, and he's polite when he does. I always pictured him as a soft-spoken family man who just kind of likes to hang out and see what everyone else is up to. Because of my notions about him, that kind of calm, easy-going story is exactly what I was expecting in this book. Man, was I wrong! This book is filled with people tearing the flesh off others, kids eating human flesh and all kinds of goodies that as an extreme horror fan, made me giddy with happiness.
Woodrow has a beautiful writing style that immediately grabbed me, and passages like,
“Great art has the power to knock down walls, transport people into another world. And, like all great art, this painting has the potential to make people forget where they are supposed to be, even if it's for just a moment. And if that happens – if they take their eyes off the road for just a second – the entire system could collapse,” made my heart happy. Wasteland Gods is more than just a horror novel. It tells the tale of a man who seeks revenge and redemption, a man who struggles with his grief and often loses his battle with alcoholism. It answers questions like, “What if?” and “Why?” It contains elements of the supernatural and even has a slight sci-fi feel to it with some fantasy thrown in for good measure. It's not often I consider a book a masterpiece, but I think this one fits that description perfectly. Intricately woven and intelligently written, this novel will appeal to every type of horror fan.
As someone who is trying to get a writing career off the ground, I am often told that a writer's first novel is usually his worst, and that he improves with each book he writes. I don't know how Woodrow can improve on this. (No pressure) It's as perfect a novel as I've ever read and will put some seasoned writers to shame.
Wasteland Gods is published by Horrific Tales Publishing so I went into this novel knowing it would be great. This press has never let me down and with titles such as The Immortal Body, the High Moor trilogy and Lucky's Girl under its belt, I've come to expect nothing but the best from Graeme Reynolds' Indie press. As always, he and the author didn't disappoint. This is absolutely one book horror fans need on their Kindles or bookshelves.
Look for Wasteland Gods to come out on February 29. UK folks, pre-order the book here and for those in the U.S., pre-order right here.