“Darkened” by Bryan Smith – Horror Novel Review

Darkened by Bryan SmithFormat: multiple ebook formats (I read the epub version)
Publisher: Bitter Ale Press
Publication Year: 2011

This is a first for me. Between the time I purchased this book last week and the time I finished it last night, Bryan Smith’s latest novel, self-published as an ebook only, has undergone a title change. Smith gives the lowdown here, but apparently someone with a similarly titled project took issue with the use of the title Deadworld, even though it is impossible to copyright a title. So the book is now called Darkened, which doesn’t matter much to the reader because by any name this book would be a rollicking good slice of pulpy apocalyptic horror.

Holes have begun appearing in the fabric of reality, and some very bad things have started coming through. Just as the President is addressing the American people on this crisis, slithery tentacles appear from nowhere, killing the Commander in Chief on live television. The strange warp holes continue to appear, some bigger than others, with the entire nation of  Pakistan vanishing into a black hole. Soon, large bat-faced creatures with tentacles, leathery wings, and needle-sharp teeth dripping with poison are appearing everywhere, laying waste to the population of the entire Earth. The creatures are only the first wave of Armageddon, and what’s left of the world is soon experiencing a general decay. Plant life quickly dies out and man-made objects begin to break down and corrode at a highly accelerated rate.

The world is left with only a handful of survivors. There’s a bartender/songwriter named Emily, her co-worker Jake and the world’s creepiest bar patron Aaron. We also have a college student named Warren who has to share the apocalypse with his seriously bitchy recent ex-girlfriend Amanda (tell me that isn’t uncomfortable). And we have a cable news anchor named Zeke who, in the wake of the global disaster, hooks up with Mary Lou, a perpetually naked and bat shit insane redneck. And, of course, there is also the entity from that other world that started it all.

I couldn’t help being reminded of F. Paul Wilson’s Nightworld, which also had nightmarish Lovecraftian creatures emerging from mysterious holes in the ground, though the resemblance between the two novels ends there. I had expected more monster mayhem, but the creatures disappear from the story about half-way through, and I think humanizing the extra-dimensional entity as much as the author does near the book’s climax made it a lot less scary. Still, Smith has a winner here. He’s got a pretty horrifying scenario, and the action flows along at a breakneck pace. This one is highly recommended and for just $2.99 you have very little to risk.

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