Tuesday, June 21, 2011

REVIEW: Predators of Darkness: Aftermath by Leonard D. Hilley II

When I think of post-apocalyptic horror, it’s always the final scenes of ‘Time Enough at Last’ (from The Twilight Zone) that haunt my dreams. I sympathise with poor Henry Bemis never having enough time read; I share his delight at discovering the still-readable ruins of the public library; and I so totally feel his utter despair in that moment when his glasses shatter upon the ground.

All the books in the world to read, and all the time in the world to read them . . . if only he could see the words upon the page. It sends chills up my spine even as I type this.

Although there’s a definite sense of sorrow and melancholy attached to the end of the world, there’s also a strange sense of freedom in being the last person left alive – depending, of course, on what else is left alive around you. Unfortunately for the survivors in Predators of Darkness, what’s around them is a pack of the genetically mutated beasts, robbing them of that sense of freedom. What’s more, in a moment of cruel irony that only Henry Bemis could completely appreciate, they eventually come across what seems to be a beacon of hope north of the city, only to find that the military is far more interested in containment than they are in rescue.

Toss a government conspiracy angle and a shady corporation into the mix, seed a little suspicion and dissent among the survivors, and you’ve got one hell of a story to tell.

The humans are an interesting bunch (even if a few of them are a bit too stereotypical), and it’s interesting to see how quickly and easily they devolve into a primitive kind of society. There’s a strong sense of hierarchy among them, based largely on survival of the fittest, with the women fighting each other to ‘win’ their man. I can see how that might put some readers off, but I found it oddly exciting, and it made sense to me in the context of what they’re living through. The background characters are just that – roughly sketched faces in a crowd – but the core characters are interesting, relatable, and (for the most part) likeable.

It’s the shifters, however, who I found the most fascinating – both as monsters and as characters themselves. I’ll admit I was initially annoyed by the revelation of a ‘good’ shifter (why does there always have to be a good monster in the bunch?), but Morton eventually won me over. Even as a talking cat, he’s not nearly as interesting as his vicious, sexually deviant brethren, but the contrast is valuable . . . and he does provide some much-needed comic relief. As for the rest of the shifters, they’re an intelligent bunch, and the fact that they are at odds with one another is both a cause for hope, and a cause for despair.

On that note, one thing I have to call attention to here is the very strange level of eroticism in the book. I can completely understand how it might make some people squeamish, or turn some readers off, but I found it extremely exciting – in a very taboo sort of way. Sex in this post-apocalyptic microcosm of society is dangerous and rough, and the way in which the shifters seduce/persuade/compel/ their victims isn’t nearly as gross as watching those humans give in to the animalist lust. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but somehow Hilley pushes all the right buttons to elicit the right emotions.

Complaints? Not many, to be honest. Yes, some of the dialogue was corny, the romance was a bit cheesy, and some of the characters were much too thin for my liking, but what works, works very well. This is a story that was exciting, from start to finish, and full of enough creepy thrills and gloriously inappropriate horrors to keep me reading. There’s a point halfway through where the book changes pace a bit, becoming less of a horror story and more of a science-fiction thriller, but that’s what keeps it interesting. Even the best post-apocalyptic stories can become repetitive after a time, especially once the monsters have been revealed, but there are enough surprises and revelations here to continuously rekindle the reader’s interest.

If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic horror and science fiction conspiracies, and don’t mind an author who never plays it safe, this is a book that’s definitely worth a read.

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