Novella Review: The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Paranormal
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor.com (September 12, 2017)
Length: 176 pages
Author Information: Website
An innocent summer project undertaken by a trio of college students quickly turns into a nightmare in The Twilight Pariah, a novella which drew me in with the promise of history and horror. But while the premise itself held plenty of potential, the end result did not pack quite the punch I expected, due to the slightly underwhelming execution of the story.
Maggie, Russell, and Henry are childhood friends who have all returned to their hometown for college vacation. Having recently switched her major to Archaeology, Maggie is suddenly struck with the inspiration to dig up the old outhouse pit behind the notorious Prewitt Mansion, a property that has been abandoned for decades. With a little bit of cajoling, the two others are recruited to help her out on this amateur excavation, and together the three of them head out into the night armed with a bunch of lanterns, shovels, and buckets.
While the first couple of their dig sessions proved uneventful, one night our protagonist Henry discovers something terrifying at the bottom of the pit: an infant’s skeleton, with bony horns on its skull and the evidence of a tail. Disturbed by the find, the three of them decide to keep the baby’s remains a secret, conducting their own research into who the child might be and the reasons behind its particular deformities. At around the same time, however, there have been a string of fatal attacks reported, with the victims’ bodies looking like they have been mutilated by a wild animal. None of the three friends believe this could be a coincidence; without realizing it, they may have awakened something evil that would stop at nothing to retrieve what it lost.
Have you ever read a book that has great ideas, but no soul? This was how I felt for the most part while reading The Twilight Pariah. The writing may have played a big part in it, since I found Jeffrey Ford’s style to be a little too restricting and stilted. As a result, very few scenes of terror came across as impactful as they could have been, with even the important bits like the climax imparting virtually no suspense or emotion. I don’t know if there were supposed to be any twists or surprises in the plot, because none of them really came off feeling that way at all.
Being a novella, the disadvantage of its shorter length could also be felt when it came to character development. Henry and his friends Maggie and Russell were all lightly sketched, with very rudimentary personalities. There was also too much telling and not showing, so subsequently their relationships to each other and their loved ones (Henry with his father, Russell with Luther, etc.) felt very flat. I wish the story would have spent more time developing those deeper connections, rather than squandering precious paragraphs describing the three friends sitting around the pool smoking pot and drinking themselves into a stupor.
And yet, for all my complaints, I didn’t entirely dislike the book. I think it accomplished what it set out to do, which is to provide a quick and simple tale of creepy entertainment. It could have been a lot more though, which is where most of my disappointment stems from. While the supernatural angle was fun and the eventual explanations for what happened at the Prewitt Mansion were interesting, the horror elements—which, as I said, were some of the key reasons I was originally drawn to this book—were rather muted and didn’t do it for me. All told, The Twilight Pariah was a perfectly good treat to indulge in for an afternoon of escape, but it didn’t make much of a lasting impression.