Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Tim Lebbon
Published by Leisure Horror
One thing I love about this genre is the wide variety of stories and ideas that can fall under the heading of "horror". Everything from subtle, psychological pieces to full-on monster-mashing madness; it’s all welcome under the horror umbrella, as long as it touches something inside us that is linked to fear.
Tim Lebbon’s latest offering is a great example of the more subtle side of horror, a tale that, more than anything else, asks the question: How shaped by our childhood are we? For Cain, the answer is seemingly 100%. Raised by his father after his mother died giving birth to him, Cain has had in no way, shape, or form a normal life. His father believed Cain to have what he referred to as True Sight and was convinced the only way Cain could ever realize his potential was to be shut off from the rest of the world.
So Cain was subjected, day in and day out, to all manner of psychological, and sometimes physical, torture. After his father dies in a house fire, however, Cain is found and sent to Afresh, basically a halfway house for children who have suffered greatly at the hands of those who were supposed to be the ones they trusted the most. As Desolation begins (a title, I might add, that’s really not indicative of the tale within), Cain has just been released from Afresh and is sent out on his own to start a new life. He’s given residence at Number 13 Endless Circle. Within are some of the stranger folks Cain has ever met, but at first he tries to just take his new life, his life of freedom, as his own and hope the others will accept him in time.
The denizens of the apartment, however, have a different plan. A plan that might just be a bit too similar to what his hated father had wanted for him, and the last thing in the world Cain wants to be is anything like what his father wished for him. Sometimes, though, the truths of someone’s actions are far stranger than how we perceive them.
Sorry if I’m being vague, but Lebbon’s style is to let the mystery unfold for the reader only as he sees fit, and suffice it to say most of the twists in the tale were pretty unexpected. Lebbon’s imagination is one to be reckoned with, so if you’re a reader who wants everything spelled out for him or her by a certain point of the book, this one’s going to frustrate you to no end. If, however, you prefer your stories to take their time and leave themselves to some personal interpretation, Desolation will keep you thinking pretty much to the very last page.
Though all the characters are strong for the most part, some seem severely underused or just downright confusing, and at times I wondered if Lebbon knew what tale was going to unfold when he sat down to write this and what characters would be involved. Cain is the focal point, however, and everything that’s seen is done so through his (admittedly skewed) perception of the world at large and his place in it. That may explain why some characters that seem as if they’re going to be important or have more of a backstory down the road fade off into the background instead.
One fairly significant issue I had, however, was with Cain’s ability to deal with what was happening to him. Now, granted, he’s not exactly emotionally stable, but his fluctuations between needing to get to the bottom of the mystery that seems to be surrounding both him and the house he now lives in and just wanting to give up and go back to Afresh get a bit tiresome after a while. It would’ve been nice if he could just choose one path or the other and stick with it for a while because it made for some frustrating moments throughout. I would think he was just about to make a decision and follow through on it, but then some exposition would occur and he’d be right back where he was to begin with.
This kind of incident, however, was not overtly detrimental to the book as a whole, and overall Lebbon’s inventive storytelling rises above any issues one may have with the central character. Desolation is a very small, very personal book, and I get the feeling it’s more autobiographical than anything else. Not that the Young Lebbon spent his childhood locked in a basement, but there are some issues I believe he’s working through with this story; it just feels too personal for there not to be. And if that’s not the case, well, that just further proves what an inventive wordslinger he truly is.
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