Joan De La Haye Appreciation Day
In a weird bit of synchronicity, August appears to have had a distinctly African flavour here at The Eloquent Page. First there was that fine debut novel Infernal from South African born author Mark de Jager. Then the fantastic Poison City by Durban based author Paul Crilley arrived. To round things off, it seemed only appropriate to celebrate another of my favourite authors from the southern hemisphere, Joan De La Haye.
So breaking from tradition, today you are getting two reviews for the price of one. I’ve decided to rename Friday August 26th to “Joan De La Haye Appreciation Day”. I first discovered Joan’s work a couple of years ago with her splendid zombie novella Oasis. Since then, she has continued to produce wonderfully dark fiction including the deliciously evil Fury. I kept promising myself that I would go back and check out some of her other work in her back catalogue. This week, I finally managed to get some space in my schedule and so decided it was high time to check out the two books below.
Marcie Grove is a lonely witch. After a full moon ritual she decides to do something about the abysmal state of her love life. Making use of a powerful spell to cure her sad state of affairs, she puts her own life, as well as her coven, in danger when her apparent success brings forth a dark power with explosive and deadly results.
First up is a novella that proves the old axiom was ever true – be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. Marcie dreams of the perfect partner. She makes the mistake of using magic to try and conjure him up. Unfortunately for her, what she ends up with is powerful entity with an agenda of his own.
This cautionary tale confirms my opinion. There are certain things that humanity just shouldn’t interfere with. Trying to control forces that we don’t fully understand is right up near the top of the list (just after tinkering with genetics for fun and profit).
At only just over fifty pages long, Burning is ideal if you’re looking for a story to rattle through in a single sitting. I really like the cover as well. You can’t beat a bit of old school Tarot.
Burning is published by Fox Spirit Books and is available now.
Sarah is forced to the edge of sanity by the ghosts of her family’s past. Suffering from violent and bloody hallucinations, she seeks the help of psychologist and friend, Michael Brink. After being sent to an institution in a catatonic state covered in blood from stabbing her unfaithful boyfriend, Sarah is forced to confront the truth about her father’s death and the demon, Jack, who caused her father’s suicide and is now the reason for her horrific hallucinations. Unlike her father, Sarah refuses to kill herself. She bargains for her life and succeeds. In Sarah’s struggle to regain her life and her sanity, she discovers more things to the world than she could ever have imagined and leaves her seeking the answer to the nagging question, Who is really mad?
Next up is something a bit larger to get your teeth stuck into, Shadows.
Sarah has recently lost her father. His sudden suicide seems so abrupt and out of character that it has caused her to start questioning her own grip on reality. Was he suffering from deteriorating mental health or was there something far more sinister going on?
There is something heartbreakingly sad, but also utterly fascinating about watching a character full apart at such a basic level. When Jack enters her life Sarah quickly begins to lose all sense of self, and her actions become increasingly erratic. You can’t help but cheer when Sarah finally decides that enough is enough and she starts to fight back. There is a specific moment when, with a sense of grim determination, Sarah decides Jack is not going to beat her anymore. She is going to take back her life and put her own personal demon to rest. This is properly dark stuff. Characters genuinely seem to suffer (how splendid) and there isn’t a single subject that is considered taboo.
With the exception of Sarah, pretty much all the other characters in Shadows are an entirely loathsome bunch. Sarah is treated like a doormat by her boyfriend Kevin who is doing the dirty on her. In turn Kevin is being treated badly, deservedly so, by the other women in his life, Denise and Carol. I think I would actively try and avoid any of these people if there was ever a chance I might meet them. Talk about toxic personalities. They are also so unrelentingly unpleasant I couldn’t wait to see what fate would befall them all. I’m always genuinely impressed when a writer manages to make me hate a character. It means the author must be hitting the nail squarely on the head with their characterisation to elicit such a response.
If you put a gun to my head and demanded which out of the two books I liked most I think Shadows just edges it for me. Though I do enjoy novellas, I tend to find they are always finished way too soon. Shadows has the added luxury over Burning of being larger, so you get to learn far more about the characters and their interactions.
Both books left me in little doubt that Joan De La Haye writes superior, distinctly adult, horror fiction that doesn’t pull any punches. If you’re easily offended then look elsewhere but if, like me, you like a creepy tale or two, then I strongly suggest you check out this author’s work.
Shadows is also published by Fox Spirit Books and is available now.