Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In is horrifyingly real and frightening enough to make readers avoid rural Oregon, or woods in general, for that matter.
I jest about the woods as I look at my own patch of dark trees in the yard at twilight and cannot help but worry what might be lurking in there; thanks, Ania.
The Devil Crept In centers around Stevie, one of the best protagonists you could ever have the pleasure to meet.
The following Book Review Of The Devil Crept In Contains **Spoilers** But Not Of The Ending
Stevie is a young boy of around eight or nine, who is likely on the spectrum, has no friends, but one – his cousin, Jude – because of speech difficulties and the missing the bulk of the fingers on his right hand a la Roland Deschain.
Despite his father’s abandoning Stevie, his mother, and his older brother, because of Stevie’s Mom refusing to treat the panic attacks and breakdowns, and despite the physically abusive step-father that is only present to pay the bills and torment his wife and youngest step-child, Stevie remains a good kid.
Sure, he goofs off, he disobeys his parent’s requests, and he goes off on unsanctioned adventures with Jude, but all that is normal kid stuff, and at his core he is very empathetic toward others and genuinely worries over animals and people alike.
The setting in Oregon, from the lush trails and old overgrown paths to the mossy-roof of what is seemingly an abandoned house on the edge of the forest is enveloping.
The characters, from the shop keeper trying to warn Stevie of the danger out in those woods, to Stevie’s horrible older brother – who makes him swear to not have seen the hand job his girlfriend was giving him at the movie theater – are too familiar.
They are too real.
The thought of Stevie’s step-father Terry, a real monster in human form, and the sound of his belt being unbuckled to whip Stevie makes me squirm.
This tale is based on a reality so solid you feel as though you could move there and lose your dog in no time as well.
Stevie worries over people being okay and seems to care for those around him with a golden ability that many young people possess, even if they hide it.
Stevie’s older cousin Jude, on the other hand, is two years Stevie’s senior, and is the small Oregon town of Deer Valley’s brash malcontent.
And for all of Jude’s harsh words, like making fun of Stevie’s speech impediment, he is the only one that has showed any desire to spend time with the boy who lost much of his right hand in a garbage disposal.
When Jude goes missing, Stevie’s world is decimated.
He feels utterly alone.
He seeks frantically to find out what has happened to his only friend, not knowing what his investigations into the long-abandoned trails in the wooded town might bring.
Around this time, he sees an animal-like creature around this time, that he describes as a yeti, for lack of any other comparable being.
But the adults in his life do not listen to him.
His are the ravings of a madman in a child’s body; a clearly disturbed boy.
Stevie learns of the missing pets in the town.
What kind of town has virtually no pets among them?
The kind of town, surrounded by woods, that is hungry.
The yeti, it turns out, was born out of a night terror rape with what may have been Satan.
A soon-to-be single mother sought refuge from a biker-run crash house, and an old Dead-head one percenter named Rasputin was too kind to grant her wishes.
One night under his care, and nine months later, the white hairy ape-like human is the result.
He is very real. He eats flesh from whatever he can chew. He is not quite human.
The lesson: listen to kids, not the town’s communal rumor mill.
The sad truth is that small towns often look away from the truth as easily as adults ignore what children say.
And children, like the truth, should be heeded.
Ania Ahlborn brings one of my new favorite protagonists, Stevie, and the reader through an agonizing range of emotions, from desperation and exasperation to fear and the internal debate over the compulsion to need to act violently to save one’s self and others.
My only critique is that I would have loved to see a little more of the bearded Rasputin, who appears a couple of times in the book, briefly.
But the imagination certainly spins, like a possessed head, with the thoughts of the possibilities that lurk in and around the character Rasputin.
In Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In, the reality is set before the reader, as if it is perched on a stone, and when it shakes or falls, the story jars us heavily.
Dark Across The Bay By Ania Ahlborn Coming From Earthling Publications in a S/L edition befitting the thrilling new novel.
The Following TFF Preview Review Will Only Contain **Mild Spoilers** To The Initial Plot Of The Book’s Opening.
Best-selling author Ania Ahlborn takes a fractured family to a secluded vacation home where unnerving and horrific hauntings rattle the reader and the Parrishs alike, and then the stalking begins to slowly unravel everyone’s nerves.
Dark Across The Bay bleeds mysterious hints at insidiousness growing rampant, from the creepy island rental besieging the vulnerable family to the stalkers intruding on them.
Before a marriage can formally dissolve, or Lark and Leo can attempt to move on, everyone is brought to the beach house Airbnb off the coast of Raven’s Head, Maine, 1000 miles from their family home, for a weekend retreat.
The island has only the one house and only one way on or off its shores: by boat.
The expansive residence contains wonderful window views out onto foggy waters, but it seems to be off somehow.
It makes for a great setting, as everything from the building itself to its innards seem creepily askew.
It holds myriad secrets that are tucked away, like the odd nooks and hallways full of unsettling amounts of fishing paraphernalia and hidden corner cubbies full of shabby books.
And ‘Mom’ wants ‘family time’ to be devoid of cell phones in the house, and so the modern interconnectivity of the world and its people easily communicating is stoppered bringing further isolation at times. When the phones come to back to life it is alarming.
The characters are each well met in the story, and the relatable, familiar family interactions spark lots of memories of growing up.
You may not like each member of the Parrishs, but they are certainly all intriguing, from the nearly divorced parents almost certain of their fate, to their two children, who are young adults struggling through recent trauma.
Lark is a novice novelist, battling through a bad break-up, and her brother, Leo, is distanced from her (and everyone), as he aims to leave the grief of his best friend’s death behind with an escape to the shores of Thailand.
Ania Ahlborn brilliantly keeps the characters off balance, as well as the reader.
The seemingly discernable arcs of each of the characters become further and further confused as their sense of calm and, at times, outright sense of terror is ratcheted up in stark, unexpected ways.
Who would torment the family of four? Is it personal, and if so, why travel 1000 miles to dole out such cruel punishment? Are there any supernatural elements at play?
The prose is wonderfully written, painting clear, boisterous scenes with visceral jolts to the heart.
Suspense and old fashioned, yet modernized, and innovative mystery meets elements of horror in this fantastic phantasm of a tale.
Dark Across The Bay by Ania Ahlborn is an amazing work from one of speculative fiction’s brightest minds.
Her use of world building and literary prowess makes for one hell of a story, and Dark Across The Bay debuts on a fine press publisher with Signed and Limited editions from Earthling Publications.
There are 500 numbered, Smyth sewn, offset printed copies, signed by Ania Ahlborn and Josh Malerman, as well as 15 lettered, offset printed, tray-cased hardcovers, with both the book and the tray-case being hand-made using the finest materials, and signed by all contributors.
The gorgeous cover art and interior art is brought to us by renowned illustrator Vincent Chong, and the book contains an introduction from the author as well as best seller Josh Malerman (author of Bird Box and Goblin).
They still have copies available! Take a look here!
If you are not familiar with Earthling, they have made some of the finest hand-crafted editions of books, each with their own unique feel.
An all-time grail for this reviewer is Earthling’s lettered edition of The Hellbound Heart: 20th Anniversary Edition (2007) novella by Clive Barker, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for the design of Dark Across The Bay by Ania Ahlborn.
We already know the cover art from Vincent Chong is outstanding.
We will conduct a more in-depth review after the book is released, going further into the novel and into the book edition.
But for now this has to be one of the most eagerly awaited suspense and horror books coming this year, and our rating is:
Ania Ahlborn’s Brother astounds in limited Suntup Editions, and both the visceral, chilling work of horror and the incredible physical manifestation of the book from Suntup are reviewed here.
A short summation of the book review of Brother is that it is a brilliant novel and work of art.
And Suntup Editions crafted it into palpable art for book lovers to grasp in-hand.
Few tales really grab you, wringing your stomach repeatedly, like Brother does.
Here is the story synopsis as seen on Suntup Editions’ website, Suntup.press, and the review continues below:
Brother is the terrifying tale of a family’s disturbing traditions, and of one brother’s determination to break free from all he has ever known. In a crooked farmhouse off the beaten path and miles away from civilization live the Morrows. A band of eccentric recluses, the family keeps to themselves so as not to be questioned by local police when girls go missing from the side of the highway. But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow is different. He derives no pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees.
Michael pines for a life of normalcy and to see a world beyond that of West Virginia. In the nearby town of Dahlia, Michael meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop. He is immediately smitten, but his family is all too eager to remind him of the monster he is.
Hailed by critics as “impossible to put down,” Ahlborn delivers all the guilt, guts, and gore of family drama as Michael fights to attain the life he longs for. [credit: Suntup.press]
Both the story itself and the hardcover books are inspired.
From the opening screams, and the lack of surprise at those screams, Brother has you.
Ania Ahlborn’s Brother transcends all kinds of fiction genre labels, as horror, suspense, psychological thriller, and gore converge, and that is part of what makes this work so damn good.
Ahlborn seizes on the psyche of nineteen-year-old protagonist, Michael Morrow, to tell her bone-chilling tale, and he is utterly compelling.
Michael is a walking dichotomy: he is both full of dread and hope, seemingly gold of heart and yet a part of humanity at its most hideous; his brother Reb takes jabs at Michael being slow in the uptake throughout the book and yet Michael shows signs of swift insightfulness; he is a romantic at heart and extremely naïve, despite seeing atrocities the likes of which few can imagine in their nightmares and the self-hatred he has for being a part of them.
The setting is the 1980’s in the rural wooded country of West Virginia, and the fervent characters that live there are primarily seen from the point of view of Michael Morrow.
And seeing through that lens makes for an endlessly intriguing, albeit disturbing, voyage.
Limited edition photography by Paul Michael Kane.
You only have to start the book to find yourself jumping at the sound of Mama’s voice.
Michael is woken to the sounds of a young woman in distress, but what is immediately striking is that it is the sound that it is alarming to him.
He abhors the sound, but he is also so familiar with it that he is numb to the frantic plea.
The gravity of the future murder is there, and he is upset but oddly removed from her, even as he feels for the young woman’s plight.
Michael more bemoans the fact that he needs to be ready to rise from his bed in the middle of the night and do Mama Morrow’s bidding.
Limited edition photography by Paul Michael Kane.
When the young woman gets loose and flees through the trees, trying desperately to escape, you cannot help to get out of breath yourself as the vivid view from under the trees and the inner monologue of Michael draw you in.
He is the fastest runner among the Morrows, and so he must do as his adopted family commands: catch the girl so Mama can have her way with the young woman before she is literally butchered so the Morrows can make steaks and other things from her.
Michael does not want to be a part of it.
But he is so frightened of what Mama will do if he does not comply, he cannot see that he has any option but to obey.
He cleans up afterward and slices up and stores the cuts of meat.
It is as it has always been at his adopted family’s farmhouse.
The Morrows saved him from an abandoned home, and he was put into the keeping of his older brother who likes to be called Rebel, or Reb.
Reb has bullied Michael for so long, incessantly, that the reader jumps whenever Reb looks Michael’s way or says anything.
The brother terrifies him to the point of paranoia that is justified and the verbal abuse is truly just the smallest glimpse into the wickedness that the eldest son of the longtime cannibalistic family, the Morrows, brings to the story.
As Michael’s brother mixes truths and lies and starts to take his little brother to meet girls – not to scout for more victims, but to get them both dates – the horror of a twisting narrative full of insanely painful and blood-spattered experiences warps the psychological reality of a young man yearning for normalcy.
One microcosm of beauty from this story comes as a girl that Michael likes lends him a record of The Cure from the store she works at, and when he listens to it his entire soul erupts in happiness and his mind opens as it has never done before.
And then things go horribly, horribly wrong as his sister begins to dance and loses control.
*SPOILERS END HERE*
The grit in the writing is so real your hands feel scraped as you put the book down.
To take such a narrative to ever-increasing emotional highs and lows over the course of a detailed terrain, a world built to entrap the reader in its dangerous twists, is sensational.
This book is not for those who are squeamish at the sight of blood, and be warned you may find yourself choked up, nauseous, cheering, and crying all within a short span while reading.
For fiction fans, and in particular horror fans, you may have a new favorite book and author on your hands.
Brother feels as though it really happened, and that scares the hell out of me.
There is no escape from one’s brother . . . Or is there? But the cost . . .
Suntup Editions Numbered State Of Brother Is One Of The Closest Examples Of A Physical Book Possessed By A Story
While I am sure the Suntup Editions lettered edition of Brother by Ania Ahlborn is also a fantastic work of art that emanates the dark tale, this review now shifts its focus to the fine press signed and numbered state.
What Paul Suntup has conjured for Brother is nothing short of remarkable.
The cover is like a fine cigar wrapper, smooth and yet full of a crinkly texture and its colors of brown and black produce a one of a kind effect for each book.
I have never held anything like this book in my hand!
Limited edition photography by Paul Michael Kane.
The cover boards were constructed by Andrea Peterson, and each is formed via a custom handmade Walnut rag cotton paper has been coated with black walnut dye from the trees of the print artist’s own homestead.
Some softening and shellac seal the walnut and then standing bright amongst the deep tones are the title and author’s name in two hits of foil stamping.
I treasure this book.
The slipcase is heavy, hard, like acacia hardwood, and not only protects but beautifully represents the toughness from the work it encompasses.
Moving to within the pages, the endsheets are Hahnemühle Bugra and have a great feel to the palm and the paper is off-white and also excellent in the hand.
On top of the finest book design a fine press can deliver – from the chapter headings to the font and all of it – Brother features six full-color illustrations by World Fantasy Award winner Samuel Araya.
And these images conjure up a surrealistic quality that is unique and combines the weird beauty with the horrific intensity of Brother.
I cannot understate two things here:
The cover alone seems to project the novel within and is a special rare book collectors will pine over.
Two: because Suntup Editions decided to give a great book that had only previously been available in paperback a hardback en masse there were 500 copies made and signed of the numbered state of Brother and amazingly enough, because most of Suntup’s numbered books are limited to 250 or less, there are a few copies still available for sale here: https://suntup.press/brother.
Since nearly all of Suntup’s books have sold out, and most do at the hour of pre-sale (the last in less than three minutes), this fantastic edition of Brother is an anomaly ripe for the taking.
Here is an unboxing video done by our local professional unboxer Jeff Terry if you want to get a feel for what it is like to open up A Suntup Editions box and behold Brother in HD video:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in Ciechanow Poland, Ania Ahlborn has always been drawn to the darker, mysterious, and morbid side of life. Her earliest childhood memory is of crawling through a hole in the chain link fence that separated her family home from a large wooded cemetery, where she’d spend hours among the headstones, breaking up bouquets of silk flowers so everyone had their equal share.
Ania’s first novel, Seed, was self-published. It clawed its way up the Amazon charts to the number one horror spot, earning her a multi-book deal and a key to the kingdom of the macabre. Eight years later, she has published ten titles. Her work has been lauded by the likes of Publishers Weekly, New York Daily News, and The New York Times. [credit: Suntup.press]
P.S. If You Want To Know A Little More About How The Forgotten Fiction Is Different & Our Mission . . .
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To bolster every author who puts out a work of fiction long after the initial buzz that accompanied its release. This is something that is usually left to an expensive public relations manager or company and even with all of their powers of marketing / PR are limited in where they can place the book months after its launch. This includes limited edition and small press publications, like Suntup Editions, that are also reviewed for their physical beauty, as well as the work’s literary art and often illustrations, so long as the initial work has been out 60 days.
We love books of fiction! And as readers we have too little time to read ALL of the books that fall onto our tentative To-Read List. The Forgotten Fiction hopes that with our Yea or Nay stamp, we can definitively give our unbiased opinion to you as a recommendation that may or may not move a book from the stack to your Must-Read List.