Double Feature Book Review - Scott Hale - The Cults of the Worm & The Agony After
Meant to get this out earlier. With Scott Hale's new and final release, The Eight Apostates, for his Bones of the Earth series, out available in paperback and down load, I figured this was a good time to highlight the latest two books in the series before moving on to the final.
I've known Scott Hale for about three year now and was glad to have met him. Considered a good friend and fellow author, he has unleashed a well established series that has left readers writhing in their beds at night with his works of horror. Being a horror fan myself, you can understand why I would deliberate on such material in the first place. If Scott lived down here in South Florida, he would no doubt be an excellent candidate to work at the haunted house, Enigma Haunt, that I work at every year. The reason being...the man knows horror. Eats, sleeps and s**t's horror. And thats putting it lightly.
Anyway, Scott has plenty other material for pursuing out there and you should definitely check out his website : www.scotthalebooks.com
Look out for my final review for the Eight Apostates when I'm done reading it. And let me say, its quite good and its bringing about the ending quite nicely. I invite you to come and read the series with me if you get a chance. So for now, please enjoy these two reviews.
THE CULTS OF THE WORM:
There’s a good chance you’ve never read a story like this...I’m almost certain.
Scott Hale continues to wow us with his harrowing tale of warring religious factions, old world and newly formed, by showing the reader both sides of a catastrophic dystopia. This multiple POV tale spans the entire map of the Trauma torn world of the Bones of the Earth series to really give the reader that true sense of balance. Cults of the Worm is a twisted tale of horror ideals—something that will truly scare the s**t out of you. It’s is no secret Hale knows horror and continues to thrive in his demented world of the macabre.
As the book series continues into its final stages of completion, the content becomes darker and darker. And for The Cults of the Worm, it is no different. Never will you encounter a shock treatment like this. Some scenes are just to grotesque to explain in this review. But nonetheless, Hale provides, serves you some entrails, and asks if you would like seconds.
As for writing reviews for multiple books in a series, one would think, how could one write even more about another book in the same series? Well it simple really. More development of characters. New places explored. There is a ton of source material covered in this book. It is not for the weary world building fear of quick reads. As mentioned before, the narration literally takes you all over the map in The Cults of the Worm. And it is this sense of adventure that really hits home when it comes to these types of stories. Encountering supernatural beings to giant flying bats, from vampyres to flesh wearing mosquitoes, this tale will send your mind diving into the deepest oceans of fantasy while still keeping that overwhelming sense of dread and loss. There are witches, and giant worms, and magic weilders, and occultists and new abominations that will force the dinner from your gut.
Love is very prominent in this third installment of the series. Most examples are with Aeson showing his obsession with Vrana. One excerpt taken from the book really stood out for me, strong proof that Aeson would do anything for the one who has forgotten him—not by choice. “Even when he wasn’t thinking about Vrana, he was thinking about Vrana; she was in his cells, in his subconscious—everywhere but his arms.” Such a great line. Another love dynamic was what Atticus showed for his family, which was strange in itself, but satisfying all the same time. (Spoiler here) after rescuing his wife and son from the membrane, they weren’t quite the same when coming back. As if they were empty inside, and after having died and come back, a piece of them were left behind, and Atticus knew it. He found that after a while, he was trying to distance himself from them, since he really didn’t have a purpose anymore. The curse of immortals.
The overall theme:
The overall theme was quite prominante throughout the entire book which I thought was a nice touch. The fact that skin harbors sin is an old time philosophy visited time and time again throughout the ages, and yet Hale visits this theme in his own unique way. A quote: “by foot or horse, the skeleton had intended to make this journey alone, and without stopping. He didn’t need to eat or drink or sleep, or simply take in his surroundings. Without flesh, he was beyond all earthly distractions.”
So much to take in here, and rightfully so. Relating back to the philosophies of Socrates, to strive for the ultimate knowledge or enlightened state, one would truly need to be void of all physical distractions. The Skeleton is this metaphor for which no human could ever obtain. This relates so much to the meaning behind the phrase at the back of the book, flesh makes fiends of us all, carnal desire, material things, are just distractions to the real meaning of life, which is the pursuit of knowledge. And it is this trait that makes the Skeleton such a prominent figure in the story, and rightfully so. He is carrying something so wickedly powerful.
And finally the long awaited “Ossuary” is explained in this book. For awhile I’ve stared at the map in the beginning of all the books lableded the Ossuary and low and behold! It is a place of death and heat. The very sand is made of human crushed bone. How neat! There is enough warmth generated there to melt the inside of your car’s dash board. Sold.
Changing the pace, I’d like to take a moment to describe the high quality the paperback books come in. Durable material covers and backs. Sturdy paper able to withstand multiple thrashings of cat’s teeth. The art work for the entire series is amazing; vibrant colors and images depicting relevance to the source material. It’s a nice touch what Hale and his wife provide to their readers, and it is certainly worth the value paid. There is the same map provided at the beginning of each book filled with locations the characters visit throughout the series. And its pleasing to know there will be an updated version of the map in the final book with even more detail.
(Now its time for the section of additional notes collected over the course of the reading that may or may not entertain you. Please feel free to indulge if so desired.)
My additional take on this series - One could relate this to The Final Fantasy of dystopian horror. A sub-class all of its own. High fantasy in a post- apocalyptic world.
The Marrow Cabal - the band of heroes. It’s headquarters is built above the lake of blood where the red worm fell.
R’lyeh - an axe wielding night terror bent on getting her friend Vrana back from the witch.
Hex - a warrior/telepath from Lacuna. (possessed?)
Mr. Haemo - mosquito man dressed in stitches skin who feeds off the blood of his victims. Abel to control swarms. (I love this guy. Wish I could see more of him.)
The Skeleton - leader of the marrow cabal. He cannot die for he is a literal skeleton of bones. (Aka bag of bones)
So now the time has come to move on to the next book, The Agony After, part two to the Blood of Before. Essential world building information to hold me over till the final book comes out. The Eight Apostates.
THE AGONY AFTER:
In quite a nutshell, it's safe to say A LOT has happened since the beginning of this series, The Bones of the Earth, that is. And what a journey it's been. The fifth book in the series, The Agony After, is an essential edition to this post-apocalyptic saga of life after death and even more death. This book is actually part 2 to the Blood of Before, but as mentioned before, co mingles and blends quite nicely into the universe Scott Hale has managed to conjure. There aren't many series out there that provide such vivid and unique details to a world that blends back and forth between the past and future. With all the ideas and plots intertwining with one another, one has to think if Hale has lost his mind. But, he hasn't, and this particular book helps you to understand why.
The Agony after is a collection of four particular stories that really serve as the
"glue" to this saga of impending doom. Filling in the gaps of many unanswered questions and plot loops, there are plenty of "ah-ha" moments that leave you begging for more. The gore levels are higher than ever in this particular book and may just make you cringe from the explicit imagery that seems to be the staple of Hale's persona. He is by the way a horror fanatic (if for some reason you didn't know). Which really means, in my opinion, he is true to his nature.
Overall this book is another representation of how the earth fell in on itself, not necessarily due to one specific idea, but an abundance of them. With all of the choice selections out there (currently) as to when, why, and how the end of the world will occur, Hale provides his own unique, flavorful dystopia. An alternate time and place, yet close to home, where the death of one god brings on the short comings of another. But not necessarily for the better. And what brought on such a change in the world? What was the ultimate trigger that really "set it off?" Everyone's personal take will be different about this book, but I would say social media and identity crisis.
Here are some notes on each of the four stories:
Where the dead go to die:
I keep telling myself it’s only a book, but the horror...oh the HORROR. Save me. .) there is a warning of explicit violence and gore at the beginning of the book .) This is always a good sign. In this short story, We get to revisit what happened to the Ashcroft children from the Blood of Before. Before they had vanished within the old Ashcroft estate of Amon and now, fast forwarding 100 years later, a sinister tenant turns out to be more than what Dario thought was a routine case in social work. I must say I was surprised at the level of intensity in this particular story despite the forewarning. But it was refreshing to be subjected to such extremity. This book is certainly not for the squeamish who can’t handle fearful situations. Hale’s realism in each scene makes it more and more believable as the onslaught of descriptions peeks more than a few times. Questions about the foundations of religion and God come into play here, with the references of the Vermillion God surfacing once again. Senses overwhelmed, one might find themselves sweating while reading this story. Or perhaps, shaking in fear. “Where the dead go to die” was a nice warming introduction to The Agony of After.
Augurs. Dare I say an exploration into a world where social media brings for the death of the world? Man this was a deep story. Watch out for those internet spell weavers...they can be quite influential. This short story was an interesting take into the ideas of cyber bullying and cellphone epidemic, a metaphor for what the world is today, and if this unwinding spiraled path continues to progress, or should I say, digress, then we should all be worrying about what is in store for our future. Particularly, a Trauma. The gore level is just as potent as the last story, if not more. Satisfying to my every whim. I even had to look up a specific term which I found interesting. It really put a stamp, or signature on how victims died in this tale. I dare you to look up “Degloved” and select images...
A Child in Every Home:
This was one of my favorites out of the four. Filled with mystery and suspense, it was hard to put down. Brimming with anxiety and excellent character development, the tale puts a perspective to the whole "what-if" syndrome in what would happen to you if the ones you loved suddenly vanished without a trace. This was an investigative type story, where the parents of one child stop at nothing to find their missing daughter. I won’t spoil it for you.
Finally, after I believe multiple requests to the author from various fans, the fabless and beloved, Mr Haemo, made his another appearance in this tale about a ghouls and a mosquito man. Journey back to the time right after the occurrence of the “Trauma” (the end of the world) only to witness the birth of another. Emergence of new creatures and monsters that could only have been derived from the machinations of man’s sin and perversion. This story was a nice explanation of how ghouls came about and more background on why Mr. Haemo wants everyone’s blood.
After having read all of these stories, I am impressed how well Hale is able to interweave and relate each consecutive story with the last one. As true to the The Blood of Before, The Agony After provides the same insight and intuition to the world building that's crucial to any book series. As one might say, "There's proof in the pudding." And there's all kinds of flavorful pudding happening here. Dare I say I'm a little worried about reading the last book, but I will accept it with open arms. I've already ordered my copy of The Eight Apostates, the final book in the series and eagerly await it's arrival in my mail box.
Here's to a great writer, Scott Hale. 5 out of 5 stars.