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Alive on the Inside / Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks

Amber Quill Press / December 2009
Reviewed by: Rick R. Reed

Synopsis: Nick Harper has a nice life, a nice job, and a nice girl. Until Labor Day Weekend, when the Phantasmagoria Traveling Wonder Show comes to town.

Seduced by the dark and wickedly erotic charms of both the Phantasmagoria and Torturo, a man known in the freak sideshow as The Pain King, Nick embarks on a journey of self-discovery, love, and pain.

But the show is not what it seems. It changes those who come with it in ways they can never imagine, not even in their worst nightmares.

And Nick's changes are just beginning...

Review: Next to Six Feet Under – one of my all-time-favorite television series – was Carnivale, which was also a product of HBO. It had a weird, convincing, apocalyptic sense of dread about it that I loved. Its story of a traveling carnival and sideshow was gripping, creepy, and in many cases, universal.

Alive on the Inside has a lot in common with that show. It’s the story of a traveling carnival and sideshow called the Phantasmagoria and it’s also replete with a slightly creepy midway, freaks, geeks, and a sinister not-quite-out-of-sight overseeing presence. And while it wouldn’t be fair to compare Carnivale and Alive on the Inside, this new book from two authors whose work I admit to being completely unfamiliar with is original, scary, and thought provoking in its own way.

Alive on the Inside takes the horror story and turns it on its head, making it a one of the most original love stories you may ever come across. Like a geek biting the head off a live chicken, this story of love and a kind of redemption is one that’s hard to look away from, but one that you wish at times you could. It’s by turns gruesome, shocking, tender, poignant, and nauseating (but in a good way fans of horror will understand). Underneath the dread, terror, and mystery of the Phantasmagoria is the continuing thread of an unquenchable timeless love between two wounded men: Nick, a closeted homosexual whose journey to self-acceptance, confidence and eventually, self-love is breathtaking; and Torturo, the “King of Pain” who helps bring Nick to that final place. Theirs is a story that, like other erotic romances, is one that never does run smooth, but is undeniably steeped in a deep and abiding love. Sparrow and Brooks give us two lovers who, by turns, are passionate in their love, lust, and yes, hate and who feed off each other’s best and worst. It’s heady, compelling stuff.

Along the way, readers are immersed in a startlingly original horror tale. I know I found the book hard to put down as I turned pages, searching for answers to the enigma that was the Phantasmagoria. All is revealed toward the end, and while I will not reveal those secrets, I will say that their solutions are somewhat predictable but richly satisfying and imaginative.

Alive on the Inside comes from a gay romance imprint, a place where readers of horror may not be tempted to search for their next nightmare fix, but trust me, this book is a unique and terrifying find…one that will haunt your nightmares as well as your most depraved fantasies.

Purchase Alive on the Inside by Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks.

Columnist Rick R. Reed is the author of eleven novels and has short fiction in more than twenty anthologies. He lives in Seattle, WA. Find out more about the author at his official author website.

Posted on Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 01:30PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments1 Comment | References2 References

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