This was a beautifully crafted psychological horror story. There was a combination of all sorts of loss—losing a loved one, losing your mind, losing your soul—cleverly woven together so that you aren't quite sure which of these is the true catalyst behind the tale.
This is exactly what I look for in psychological horror; that magic moment of coming away with so many "what if's" that I can create a dozen stories of my own, that spark to my imagination that only a gifted storyteller can evoke.
I chose this book during the March Kindle First selection and I am so glad this program exists because I might not have ever discovered this amazing author. :D
The Good: The first chapter. I haven't read such a great opening in a very long time. It could stand alone as a magnificent short story. This chapter could have been titled a prologue (what it is) and I wouldn't have cared... yes, I am one of those kinds that doesn't particularly enjoy prologues or epilogues.
I really enjoyed the writing style and I found no problems with the editing. The descriptions were great. I can still picture the blood slithering across Birdie's teeth as he menaced everyone with his most gorgeous, ghoulishly wicked grin. Aaron (the MC) was all inked up, the descriptions of his tattoos were vivid and I could imagine them coming to life, moving across his flesh and bursting into reality. This was how almost everything came across, I wouldn't doubt that this book gets optioned for film.
The central idea of the story unfolds in a number of flashbacks—through nightmares and visions. Each one builds upon the other, creating a clearer picture. This goes on until towards the end which might irk some with repetition. Basically, this book tells you straight what is going on every step of the way but raises so many questions that keep you turning the pages because you're so distracted by other bits that you really don't know what's going on—but in a good way!
I personally enjoyed this method of unfolding the plot, it gave the book a fast pace yet still held tight to the suspense... it allowed my imagination to run wild with questions and ideas of what was happening and what actually happened by the end.
The flashbacks were done in a charming way. The main character is around 35-36 years old, so I was able to easily relate to much of the world building. Name drops on music, movies and other media that gave this a very nostalgic feel. There were obvious nods to other works of horror and each time I spotted them, I have to admit... I gave a little silent fangirl squee. ;)
Aaron's descent into madness was intense and very well done. By the end of Chapter 20, and up until right before the disguised epilogue, I was looking like this every few paragraphs:
I felt ridiculous, especially with my husband giving me odd looks every now and again... but I was thoroughly enjoying the ride! I was incredibly slow at piecing things together, it wasn't until Chapter 22/24 that I wrote the following note:
If you read the spoiler and have already read this book, you will see that I was partly mistaken as to how the ending was going to come about. I was a little disappointed that this prediction didn't play out, but after it was all said and done, I was satisfied with the ending given.
The Bad: Speaking of endings... the ending was done in such a way where I can see many people getting angry and thinking that it's leaving an opening for a sequel. I don't think this was the author's intent, fairly certain it was just completing the cycle to open up a ton of questions to the reader on how this evil is being passed on.
Some things didn't make sense... how did Aaron and Edie live in that house together for stretches of years without any sign of Birdie? This makes the idea of this being psychological more probable, however, evil doesn't really have logic. So, again, this is something I think other people might get miffed about... but it didn't really ruin the story for me.
The character development wasn't the greatest, but I think this is another thing only certain people will be annoyed with. For instance, Cheri is the classic example of a girl who never got over her first love. Some may think this is an odd characterisation but I've known a Cheri or two before... plus, she had an abusive childhood with a drunk father... so it isn't too far of a stretch. The same can be said about her abusive/jealous husband. His actions could be seen as bizarre if you've never known a person like that or even a couple whose relationship is falling apart due to trust and low self-esteem issues. I've also met lots of guys like the other friend, Eric—not sure of himself and only doing things half-heartedly. They were true-to-life characters, just not the kind you are likely to want to be friends with.
All of these flaws made dialogue really awkward. You almost want to scream at the main character to just spill his guts... but under the circumstances (not seeing his childhood best friends for 20 years, his marital problems and being on the edge of madness) he reacted exactly like I'd expect... not trusting anyone.
I did think that the paranormal society side could have been developed further. Eric would have been more interesting had he been an informed investigator instead of just an incompetent one. Obviously I'd have loved more backstory on Birdie, but his mysterious history is what made him more creepy.
So, although all these things are probably considered bad by many... at most it only knocked off one star from my rating.
Warnings: Do not read this book if topics involving the loss of a child are triggers or if you have a great love for birds.
I personally didn't think there was much gore or frightening scenes... but I am rarely scared or even creeped out by anything so it's hard for me to rate on that. Going on my enjoyment factor, it's probably fine for fans of horror... but if you are not a horror fan, you might find it a little overboard.
Soundtrack Selection - The video I posted the other day is a perfect match for this book... but since it would have gotten nuts listening to it on repeat, I opted to listen to an album instead.
Chelsea Wolfe - Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs (available free, on Spotify)
ETA: This book and others written by Ania Ahlborn are available for free with Amazon Prime's Kindle Lending Library.