October 12, 2015

The Wonder Years of Horror: a review of Michael W. Garza's 'Children of the Mark'

Children of the Mark
by Michael W. Garza
Severed Press (2015)
196 pages
Available at Amazon.com

I remember a guy in my high school once swore up and down that he'd seen a satanic ritual in a park one night. The story didn't pass the smell test and I just wound up wondering what he was doing out at the park in the middle of the night, anyway. And why would anyone pick a public park to sacrifice goats or whatever to the Dark Lord. A little conspicuous, right? No, you need an abandoned warehouse if you're gonna do any proper devil worship.

And that's exactly where this book kicks off.

Three friends, AJ and his cohorts, Dougie and Claire, wind up discovering a satanic ritual of sorts inside an old warehouse one night. While the smart plan of sneaking back out of the warehouse before they're discovered is brought up, of course it winds up that one of them wants a closer look, which means the other two must tag along. Cue the summoned demon and all sorts of heck raising culminating with AJ marked by the demon before the three of them escape before being identified by the gang of acolytes.

From there, AJ discovers that his newly weirded out eyeball, said mark incurred during the ritual, grants him an unwieldy ability to scope out the cult members and their supernatural influences. He confides in Dougie and Claire, but family life and school life are somewhat complicated by the ordeal. The one person they are able to turn to quite conveniently is the woman who runs the little bookshop in town.

While the horror elements were there, this felt closer to dark fantasy with a young adult sensibility. Focusing more on the mystery and the growth of the trio in their senior year, as they work to uncover the motives and next major move of the cult. It's a bit of old hat in that regard, reminding me a bit of something what the Buffyverse would look like as presented by Goosebumps. The main plot of the novel didn't really hold me as much as just the very believable presentation of the main characters. They aren't overtly snarky or clever or hair-brained, as a cynical horror fan might expect from teen characters, with only minor stumbling blocks by way of dialogue and actions that feel forced rather than organic.

All in all, it's a quick, satisfying read for fans of the genre. What may wind up offering a more rewarding experience with this book is the new role-playing game set in its universe.

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