March 30, 2015

Dining on Death: a review of Kevin Lucia's "Devourer of Souls"

Devourer of Souls
by Kevin Lucia
Ragnarok Publications (2014)
157 pages

Available on 

Stephen King and Robert McCammon are arguably the two kings of the hill when it comes to coming-of-age horror stories. Well, if Devourer of Souls is any indication, Kevin Lucia is scratching and clawing his way to join them at that mountaintop.

The book isn't a straight-up novel, but rather two separate novellas joined by a throughline akin to Bradbury's Illustrated Man. And it's the first of the two, "Sophan," that I feel is the standout and has me singing Lucia's praises.

Set in upstate New York, the interludes feature four men (a teacher, a preacher, a doctor, and the sheriff) discussing the strange happenings in the area at a diner, with a book that contains much of what's happened thus far.

"Sophan" relates the tale of a young boy and his group of friends during a summer in which childish games and family secrets turn deadly. Nate, the narrator, worries about his pal Jake. Well, pal might not be the word, since Jake has a huge chip on his shoulder and winds up being more of a pain in the ass to Nate and the other boys most times. It's when they check out the flea market and see Mr. Trung's table of trinkets that Nate finally sees something in Jake's eyes that he hasn't seen before. Fear.

The brooding tension that builds along the way, coupled with the ever escalating weirdness surrounding Mr. Trung and the game that so fixates both Nate and Jake, make for a very memorable and highly satisfying story. It's the kind of story that makes a reader eager to see what else its author can come up with.

Fortunately, readers don't have to wait long, as the book leads right into the next story, "The Man in Yellow." Set in a neighboring town, and slightly reminiscent of King's Needful Things, with a stranger the narrator comes to call the man in yellow rides into town with promises and health and prosperity, if only the townsfolk will come round to his way of worship. It's a seductive call for most in town, but for the narrator whose physical limitations leave him feeling not only tempted, but burdened as even his own father seems drawn to the preacher's sermons of healing the sick and injured. It's a story with some real old school menace to it, and a touching friendship put through the wringer and the narrator and his best friend soon find themselves at odds over how the man in yellow might help them both, and what price might ultimately have to be paid.

Devourer of Souls feels almost like an homage at points to the best of what horror provided back in the 80s, while also displaying Lucia's deftness at getting right to the heart of his protagonist and putting each through an enthralling bit of hell to show it. If these Clifton Heights tales are just the beginning of what he has in store, I look forward to seeing just what that might be.

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