I've read a lot of work by some great authors lately, much of it as bleak and dark as it gets, some viscerally, brutally violent. But none could be said to be as dark as Charlee Jacob's Season of the Witch, and very few could be said to be as viciously bloody or horrific. Jacob is an author who never pulls her punches, willing to take risks and push boundaries that other authors shy away from and, where a lesser author might stumble, she pulls it off admirably. Think Edward Lee with the gloves off and you’ll have an inkling of what I’m talking about.
Those of us who have been reading horror fiction for a while will be familiar with the term, “unspeakable horrors.” But what does that mean, exactly? It gets thrown around a lot, both by those who write book synopses and those of us who write reviews, so much so that it’s become little more than a hyperbolic cliché and when most people see those two words together their gaze just jumps right past without gaining any context from it. But in spite of the over usage of the term, it’s the best possible term to describe the work of Charlee Jacob in general and Season of the Witch in particular.
In Season of the Witch, things start out bad—I mean that in a good way—and, when ads for X-IS-THE-DARK mysteriously appear all over town, go quickly to hell from there. The insidious phone service encourages people to call in with their most disturbing thoughts, no matter how dark and twisted and encourages them not only to talk about them but to take them even further, maybe even to act upon them. But X-IS-THE-DARK is just the beginning of the town’s woes as things begin to get stranger, more brutally violent, and ultimately intensely terrifying as the story progresses. I’m not going to make any great effort to synopsize this thing. Anyone who’s ever read Charlee Jacob’s work will know that it’s never a straight forward or simple thing to describe the plot of one of her books. They tend to have twists and turns all over the place and stories layered one upon another, and this one’s no different.
Charlee Jacob is known for scathingly visceral gore and unapologetic, frequently shocking violence and there are plenty of both in Season of the Witch. The book should be packaged with a label that warns off the faint of heart or weak of stomach, and that’s not an exaggeration. But the funny thing about her work is that while she’s in the process of disturbing, horrifying, and grossing you out, she does so with some of the most beautiful, poetic prose I’ve seen in the sort of hardcore horror she delivers. She’s a master wordsmith with a great sense of detail and unmatched descriptive prowess, her words captivating and, above and beyond the meaning of them, extremely readable. Being the poetry fanatic that I am, there were times when I became so caught up in the language that I lost the storyline and found myself having to go back and recapture the thread. Not that it’s difficult to follow, merely that I’m often easily distracted.
While it should be said that the story is a bit thin on character development, the worlds Charlee Jacob creates are fascinating and terrifying and the telling of the tale more than makes up for that minor flaw. Her settings and scenarios can compete with those of Clive Barker and are, in truth, the great strength of this or any other Jacob story. Her haunting, surreal landscape becomes one of the major players, almost a character in and of itself, and the obscene, amoral villains of the tale, while they may be off putting to those of weaker constitution, are terrifying and fascinating. Season of the Witch makes it readily apparent that Jacob doesn’t believe in limits and, while she may not be intentionally endeavoring to shock her readers, she does so with increasing frequency as the story progresses. While I’m always hesitant to use the term “splatterpunk”, it’s the most applicable genre association I can make here. This story is extreme, ultra intense horror with a massively high body count, tons of self-mutilation, and enough blood to fill a couple of Olympic swimming pools.
Season of the Witch is one of the few experiences I’ve had with Charlee Jacob’s work but it certainly won’t be the last. It has a few rough patches but is overall a very enjoyable read and I would recommend it to any fan of hardcore, extreme horror. If you’re looking for some intense reading in this, the witching season, you’ll find it in Season of the Witch.