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Sparrow Rock / Nate Kenyon

Leisure Books / May 2010
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

If good horror fiction evokes a genuine sense of dread, then Nate Kenyon’s Sparrow Rock is excellent horror fiction. And be forewarned: The sense of dread you experience while reading it may be enough to send you climbing up the back of your favorite reading chair. Relentless in its intensity, agonizing in its heartbreak, Sparrow Rock is easily one of the most effective and satisfying novels of dark fiction you’re likely to read this year.

With hearty bits of The Ruins, The Food of the Gods, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a generous heaping of The Breakfast Club, and a pinch of The Sixth Sense all tossed in to an apocalyptic stew, Kenyon concocts a nifty horror dish best served raw. And while the novel’s setting is throat-tightening claustrophobic, its scope is epic.

Six teens – Jimmie, Jay, Dan, Sue, Tessa, and Pete – are your typical bunch of modern-day high school friends. Out for a night of teenage aimlessness – here card playing, recreational drugs, and general hanging – the group holes up in a state-of-the-art bomb shelter, constructed by one of the kid’s conspiracy theorist grandfathers. Well, cue the slightly altered adage “Grandfather knows best” because the kids are barely through their first joint and a few hands of poker when Armageddon strikes.

As the world topside deals with what appears to be a full-blown nuclear strike of epic proportion, the kids quickly realize that the bomb shelter will be their home for the foreseeable future. With enough power and provisions to last several months, all seems manageable. But Kenyon quickly reveals that he’s got other plans for this doomed adolescent sextet. To provide too many details of the terror Kenyon heaps on his likeable cast of characters might otherwise spoil some of the fun here, but, suffice to say, the author raises the bar on “skin-crawling” to an almost unbearable level.

Kenyon’s pacing here is spot-on, with scarce time for the characters – or the reader – to regroup before his next twisted creepy-crawly onslaught. It’s so cliché to say that something will leave you breathless, but Sparrow Rock manages to bring about genuine breathlessness in its unremitting forward momentum. It’s rare to experience such a visceral reaction to a book, but damned if Kenyon didn’t have this reviewer subconsciously considering a fly swatter and bug spray more than once.

But the real revelation about Sparrow Rock – and, ultimately, what gives it the potential to be a future classic – is in the emotional resonance that Kenyon deftly imbues the novel with.  Pete, his first-person narrator, is so well-drawn that he comes right off the page at points. Kenyon seamlessly interweaves Pete’s personal back story into the larger tale, never once slogging down the narrative momentum and making the experience all the more richer for it. It’s clear from his first few novels that the recurrent theme of child-parent relationships is an integral part of the Kenyon story canon, and the author beautifully captures that in Sparrow Rock. Late into the third act, readers will likely find a lump in their throat and a stray tear clouding their vision as Kenyon brings his masterful tale to its heartbreaking denouement.

Sparrow Rock is so strong on so many levels that it’s easy to forgive Kenyon when he miscalculates slightly with an extraneous (and mercifully brief) plot point involving Nazi genealogy and a decades-old conspiracy that attempts to frame the nuclear attack in some kind of context. Explanation here for the biological terror the characters endure is unnecessary, as Kenyon expertly gets us to suspend our disbelief from the opening chapters. It’s but a minor flaw in an otherwise flawless novel.

This is Kenyon’s fourth novel – following his Bram Stoker Award nominated debut, Bloodstone, its follow-up The Reach, and last year’s The Bone Factory – and, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s easily his best. Filled with unrelenting, nature-run-amok horror, believable characters, and infused with an authentic emotional timbre that will take the reader by surprise, Sparrow Rock will likely be the book that catapults Kenyon into the big leagues of dark fiction.

Purchase Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon.

Nate Kenyon's Sparrow Rock is also available as a signed, limited edition hardcover (print run of 100) from Bad Moon Books. Order here.

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 08:54AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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