Review Bites: A Taste of African Horror
David Wolde is an immortal man who has married a mortal woman. She’s a journalist who’s starting to taste success, and he’s an accomplished professor turned freelance writer who dotes on his wife and their young daughter. However, his wife doesn’t know he is immortal. David took a blood pact many years ago in Ethiopia that granted him and fifty-nine other men immortality. They promised to never tell any others of this pact, and they promised never to get too attached to the mortal world. David’s immortal family has decided that it is time for him to leave his family and return to them. They fear that he is about to break their fragile existence by revealing himself to his wife and child. Little do they know that David plans to go one step further and attempt to grant them that which is forbidden to his family–immortality.
Prior to reading this novel, I’d only encountered Ms. Due’s work in various anthologies I’d picked up over the years that featured horror stories by writers of color. Some of those books I’ve held onto for years and revisit them periodically, and any time I’d reread one I’d always think to myself that I need to get around to reading some Due because she’d been touted a writer of color who was really making waves in the horror genre with her stories. (And her stories are almost always one of my favorites in the anthologies that I find her in.)
It was a treat to finally read a complete novel by her. I was completely captured by this story and especially enjoyed hearing about David’s past as he journeyed from Africa to America. Much like Octavia Butler she weaves African and African-American history in this story to give it such a different flavor and context than you’d find in most horror stories while adding an element of emotion that really speaks to the reader. While I don’t think there is anyone who can manage to weave race and genre fiction together quite the way Octavia Butler has with her novels, Due has certainly made quite an impact as well with her efforts. There were some parts of the novel that seemed to go on longer than they should’ve such as the ending, but this is definitely a series that I will continue.
Jessamy Harrison is a somber, contemplative child who keeps to herself. She loses herself in her world and her imagination. Her mother, a writer originally from Nigeria, decides to take her family (which includes Jess and her English husband) to her home country where Jess learns about her mother’s roots for the first time from her mother’s family. There Jess meets a little girl named TillyTilly who becomes one of Jess’ closest friends despite the fact that there’s something a little strange about TillyTilly. As the story progresses, Jess realizes there’s something disturbing about TillyTilly as strange things begin to occur in her world that makes the reader questions what’s real and what’s part of Jess’ imagination.
Part myth and part horror story, this was certainly an engrossing read. I don’t think this story will surprise too many people, especially if you read much horror. However, that’s true of most horror, and it’s more about the atmospheric quality of the story than anything. There’s not creepier than children interacting with ghosts/monsters in horror stories because of the innocence that most children bring to the story and the helplessness they can pull from the reader because they’re a child involved in something that’s much bigger and scarier than they can truly comprehend. Jess is no exception, and it’s quite a harrowing ride to follow her as TillyTilly firmly plants herself in Jess’ world.
Bahni Turpin narrated this story. I’d forgotten that I had this book when I reviewed Unholy Ghosts, which is narrated by Turpin as well, and I didn’t have to get that one to sample her work. However, the style she used for the books couldn’t have been more different. I was much more moved by her narration of this book, but her narration of Unholy Ghosts is nothing to laugh at either. She’s a talented narrator, and her range and depth of character and emotion is amazing. I did think this story went on way too long. It felt like it would’ve been a great short story. If it had been tight and concise this would’ve probably resonated with me a little longer and the ending would’ve had a great impact. I’m floundering on how I feel about the ending a bit, but I think, if this had cut out much of the story, it would’ve been more fitting. Still, this was a lyrical, haunting story that certainly left me mulling over for quite some time after I listened to it.