The Unblemished by Conrad Williams
Enter the mind of a serial killer who believes he is the rightful son and heir to an ancient dynasty of flesh-eaters.
Follow the frantic journey of a mother whose daughter is infected with the stuff of nightmares.
Look through the eyes of Bo Mulvey, a man who possesses the ancient wisdom a blood thirsty evil needs to achieve its full and horrifying potential – the man whom the fate of the entire human race depends.
At the beginning of this year I read One by Conrad Williams and I really enjoyed the stark, apocalyptic landscape that the author created. The subject matter was undoubtedly bleak but the writing was so strong I relished every page. I kept meaning to pick up more of Williams work but, as is often the case, other new releases clamoured for my attention and getting the opportunity to review his back catalogue moved further and further down my To Be Read list. Recently I have had a break in my schedule and this has given me the opportunity to rectify this omission.
Bo Mulvey is a photographer who longs for some excitement in his life. He’s bored of the status quo and a chance meeting in a pub seems to offer the opportunity of some much needed adventure. This being a horror it is no surprise that Bo swiftly comes to regret his decision as he is exposed to the dark underbelly of London’s bloody history. His actions, however unwilling, are the catalyst that has lead to cannibals stalking the city streets. Bo becomes obsessed with trying to solve this problem without giving in to the flesh-eaters call. His grim determination to keep going against seemingly endless obstacles is gripping.
Sarah, the mother trying to protect her daughter from the horrors of the uprising, follows a similar path as Bo. She will do anything to keep her child safe. She has been on the run for months from a vicious debt collector and is trying, in vain, to lead a normal life. Circumstance draws her to our nation’s capital at entirely the wrong moment. Sarah can’t understand why a reclusive serial killer is obsessed with her daughter and how this ties in with the monsters that are on the rampage.
Where I felt the novel really excels is the descriptions of the flesh eaters infiltrating London. The author elegantly portrays a city slowly falling apart. The masses continue to go on about their business but the vast majority are blind to these horrific strangers appearing amongst them. Swiftly escalating, bloody violence begins to break out each night in the city streets as the flesh eaters start to make their presence known. As the thin veneer of society crumbles around them individuals finally become aware that something unnatural is occurring. By the time people sense that these creatures exist, masquerading as humans throughout the population, it is already far too late.
The survivors attempts to escape from the city provide some of the most tense moments in the book. Bo, Sarah and a few others manage to evade capture and try to flee. Their flight to safety becomes more and more desperate as dark forces surround them on all sides.
A word of warning – this book is most definitely not for those with a squeamish disposition. We are talking about hordes of cannibalistic humanoid monsters here and all the gruesome and graphic depictions I am sure you can imagine go along with it. Actually anything you can imagine probably isn’t graphic enough. Williams lets his dark side have free reign here and there are some truly nasty things going on.
Over the years I have read a lot of horror and most of the time I enjoy it but once it’s gone, its gone. My thoughts on specific novels don’t tend to linger. Up until now there have been very few exceptions to this rule – the early works of Clive Barker and Simon Clark’s back catalogue to name a few. Based on my experience with The Unblemished it would appear that Conrad Williams has to be added to this select group. Few writers have the ability to genuinely unsettle me but Williams has succeeded here. Put it this way – up until last night it has been decades since I have had to take a break from reading a book because it was creeping me out.
If you consider yourself a horror fan and haven’t read The Unblemished you need to remedy this situation immediately. Be warned though, once you read something you can’t unread it. This one will mess with your head.