Victim Souls

Victim Souls

Victim Souls was written by Andrew Terech and first published in 2014. It is a horror story which focuses on a group of three youths who find themselves pursued by the forces of Hell. Although the novel’s ending hints that this may be the first part of a series, at the time of writing this review there have been no sequels announced.

Sam Drake is aware that he is not the nicest of people. Following the death of his parents, he was raised by an abusive uncle and a brother who he believes to be broken inside. Over his teenage years, he has done and witnessed some horrible things. However, he has just been offered a job – a final robbery that will earn him a princely sum of money.

The job sounds very simple – to rob a single gas station – and Sam can’t see any way that it could go wrong. However, he has not counted on the unreliability of his accomplices. His brother Johnny has a hair-trigger temper and his aggression is fueled by his psychotic girlfriend, Ash. It is not long before the theft becomes a blood-bath and the trio escape, leaving a trail of corpses in their wake.

Yet Johnny is hiding a terrible secret about Sam’s childhood and it is not long before something worse than the police catches up with them. As their deadly road trip continues, Sam begins to realise that there are worse demons than his brother – ones that will take his life and soul if they can find him.

First off, I’ve got to say that I debated not posting this review. Although I was originally advised that Victim Souls was a young adult novel, this turned out to be very far from the truth. However, as this novel is being advertised as young adult fiction, I figured that it put it well into my scope. In actuality, I strongly believe that no one under that age of eighteen should read this book because its content is highly questionable. The cast are all over twenty, there are a lot of adult themes (alcohol, sex, bad language) and it is graphically violent. In my head if a movie adaptation of a novel would obviously be rated NC-17, you can’t really argue that its target audience is 12-16 year olds.

I always tell people that horror is one of my favourite genres. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved scary stories. The problem is, I’ve read so many of them now that I find that some clichés really, really get on my nerves. I think that this could be part of the reason that this novel did not really entrance me. Victim Souls seemed to be entirely made up of bits and pieces taken from iconic horror films. For the large part, the novel seemed very aware of these homages (i.e. the arrival at a cabin the woods being compared to the setting of Evil Dead) but this still not make it feel especially fresh and original.

One of the main issues I had with Victim Souls was really nothing new. Although the first half of the novel tried to build a mystery story, where Sam gradually learns of the supernatural events, the story never felt as though it was maintaining any intrigue or tension. An early flashback in the story revealed far too much of Sam’s origins, making the interest that the baddies had in him far too obvious to the reader, yet after this Sam is not made aware of the bigger picture for over 100 pages.

Similarly, the story does little to build up the mystery. The first half largely consists of Sam questioning the weird happenings while Johnny and Ash (both of whom know everything) tell him that he doesn’t need to know what’s going on. When the plot is finally revealed to Sam, it is done so as solid exposition. There is no sense of him gradually uncovering the truth – he merely spends half the novel in ignorance and then suddenly is treated to an immense revelation of plot.

Yet somehow, it’s still not enough. The plot of the book seems very weak – the “job” that the characters get sent on is so obviously a set up (what kind of gas station has a safe with $100,000 in cash in it one site?) and character motivations are never fully explored. For example, its strongly hinted from the first chapter that Ash is far deeper involved with the cult than she claims, yet we are never or told exactly how much she knows. When the novel ended, I was still not sure whether she was part of Team Evil or not.

The second half of the story feels like an incredibly violent episode of Supernatural, complete with possessing demonic entities that can be recognised by the colour of their eyes. The demonic cult is that worships them is also very unoriginal, as their entire motivation is the same as every demonic cult ever. Really, why do people in horror stories think that helping out the denizens of Hell will ever go well for them? Is there something about the Devil that makes him seem completely trustworthy?

Even the structure of the novel made it difficult to read at times as the chronology fluctuated all over the place. Although the story usually followed a fixed time frame, there were random paragraphs that flashed to the past and future. These passages were never dated so sometimes it was confusing as to how far they had skipped (this ranged from a few hours to twenty-odd years) and often were sudden and very jarring.

However, for all my issues with the lack of originality in the story, the cast were far more problematic for me. This could well be a personal issue but I found that I could not empathise with any of the primary cast. For the first twenty percent of the story, they killed and tortured people indiscriminately. Even Sam, who did not really take part in the violence, was guilty by association. He was usually present for it and yet was more concerned about being caught than by the fact that Johnny and Ash were slaughtering innocent people.

By the time I was a third of the way through the book, I was actually rooting for the Satanists. The main characters had such little personality that I just wanted to see them all burn. While this is a common issue with horror stories, it by no means makes it excusable. In a novel, I find it important to be able to connect with the characters on a personal level. If I can’t empathise with them, I can’t feel any sympathy for anything that happens to them. The characters in this story were so vile and unlikable that I’m not even sure what motivated some of them (particularly Riley, as the reasons for his actions are never actually explained).

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble now and I really don’t have a lot to say about this novel. Victim Souls should not be mistaken for a young adult novel as it’s just completely unsuitable for teen readers. However, as an adult horror story it’s also not satisfying. It’s slow to start, the plot is unoriginal and the characters are utterly repellent. I was kind of intrigued about this story by the blurb but it unfortunately disappointed me on every level. Unfortunately, this story is not one that I would recommend to anyone – even a seasoned horror fan.

Victim Souls can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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