Sip – Review

“The sun was up, so the dark could start. All about the ground, all in the same direction, shadows sprawled. And this is what he was after.”

Oh how deliciously dark Sip is! A novel where we find ourselves 150 years in the future. A future where people can drink their shadows and change their bodies to float and distort in ways not possible before. But there is a heavy price. Once you drink, you must always drink. And if you drink too much, you are lost forever.

We follow two main characters, Murk, a shadow addict, and Mira, a girl who can hide her shadow. Mira’s mother is a shadow addict herself, but her fate is far worse than Murk. For when an addict sips your shadow, if they don’t stop they can steal the entire thing. And you are left the shell of who you once were, forced to sip shadows or face the madness beyond.

Of course, Murk doesn’t have life easy either. His leg was stolen from him. Chopped and taken, sold to the black market to be kept alive for a time on a machine invented for creating shadows. But he lost his leg before he lost his shadow, which offers him some protection as his shadow will never be whole.

This world is dark and gruesome, full of violence,  and run wild with madmen. But within this world are pockets of people trying to live normal lives, away from these addicts. Called domers, for they live beneath a dome. Blocking the sunlight and moonlight so that the addicts can’t steal their souls. The perimeter blocked by a perpetually running train and guarded by soldiers trained to shoot if anyone gets too near.

“Bored soldiers slaughtering innocents predates the naming of war, will go on after the words we call it are broken.”

Mira’s ability to control her shadow catches the interest of a domer, Bale. But his interest is expensive, and he gets thrown out of his dome as a penalty for not shooting her on sight.

Now the three of them, an unlikely trio, set off to test the theory that if you kill whomever stole your shadow before Halley’s Comet appears again, after the comet passes, you will return to normal. Mira desperately wants her mother back, and so she sets off on her quest. Time running out, since the comet is due within days.

Sip does not hold back on the brutal reality of a world overrun with addicts. I actually found the use of shadow addicts an interesting way to show the desperation and extremes addicts will go through for one fix, for one more high, for just one more. In a world where they are the majority, things can become chaotic and bleak very quickly.

We don’t see the world outside of the rural Texas area that Mira, Murk and Bale live, but we hear hints of other dome communities scattered about. All with trains running in circles to protect them. I thought it was fascinating how the addiction was also like a virus, contagious and rampant, and hit before people knew how to fight it. It is a unique dystopian unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

This book is dark in nature but shines bright within the characters it creates. Mira and Murk, unlikely friends, but friends all the same. And even Bale, with his knowledge of nothing but life within the dome will cause you to root for them, to root for their success. Because the journey is difficult, and filled with unexpected stops and obstacles along the way.

If you can’t stomach gritty, raw violence or the stark yet simple brutality of an apocalyptic future dominated by ruthless addicts, this is not a book for you. It will make you cringe, and your stomach turn, for death and violence is simply the way of life in this world, and Carr does not shy away from immersing the reader into the full experience of it.

“Some madnesses are so bizarre that they entice witnessing. Those in the bar who had been preoccupied with debauchery, who had been lost in the melee of drinking and lustful deeds, tapered their pursuits in order to watch this grimy operation.”

It is a book that requires you simply accept things as fact without necessarily understanding them. I didn’t ever get the full sense of why people could drink their shadows, or how it made them addicts. It isn’t that Carr doesn’t offer a brief history through the characters eyes, he does. But it is done in the way you would expect stories to be told. Vaguely, details lost or misunderstood with each telling, the decades between the event and the present altering it, diminishing it, leaving only what they deem important. You don’t get science, or factual information. However, not understanding didn’t take away from the rich narration of this world, or make it’s reality any less detailed.

The before and the after are less relevant to this story than the here and now. Which, if anyone has ever dealt with addiction, first hand or otherwise, it felt like this focus on the present story was a nod to the adage ‘One Day At A Time’ that you hear in meetings and therapy over and over. For addicts, there is only today, and so in that same way, we get the present. It felt poetic to me.

If it feels that perhaps the book may be ‘too out there’, or ‘weird’, I assure you it’s my own reluctance to delve into too many details. The world sounds difficult to picture, and the concepts may be hard to envision, but once you dive into this world, as gruesome and violent as it is, it is worth the journey. Once you begin, the characters pull you in and the sheer determination they have to move forward will move you forward too. It is a dark world. A violent one. Full of mayhem and criminality that makes the Wild West look like playtime in preschool. But you still can’t help but hope with the characters that life can always get better.

For my dark readers out there, this is a novel you do not want to miss! I will be reading Carr’s short stories and will for sure read anything he puts out next. I am a fan!

Thank you Soho Press for sending me a copy to read and review.

Seance Infernale – Review

“All those things you fear will reach from into the shadows and pull you down there with them.”

Seance Infernale is an intense thriller following Alex Whitman on his journey to find a piece of film, only rumored to exist. In America, Thomas Edison is credited with building the first camera known to capture motion pictures. In France, the Lumber brothers. But one year before Edison filed his patent, a man named Augustin Sekular is rumored to have built and filmed the world’s first motion picture camera. Conveniently, or rather inconveniently, one year before Edison files for his patent, Sekular vanished from a train, never to be seen or heard from again, taking all signs of the camera with him.

However, the man hiring Whitman to find this lost piece of film isn’t interested in any of the film strips by Sekular known and catalogued. He wants one so rare, it is only whispered about: Seance Infernale. A film only referred to in a letter by a man known in history to be a conman of sorts.

This book is more than a hunt for rare art. More than a historical mystery yearning to be solved. We learn that Whitman lost his daughter ten years prior. Abducted in a park in Edinburgh and never heard from again, she haunts Whitman. His acceptance of this job, and this hunt for Sekular’s film takes him back to the city filled with ghosts. Whitman will have to face his own ghosts, while searching for Sekular’s.

“Sources failed to indicate Sekular’s exact Edinburgh address, they stated that the family lived in a perilous region, full of seedy businesses, dark alleys, and run-down tenements, a place “where wickedness loses its seductive appeal by manifesting in all its depravity.”

Whitman isn’t the only perspective we get; however. In addition to his hunt for this mythical film, a Detective Sergeant, Georgina McBride is hunting an elusive creature of a different sort. A serial killer prowling the streets of Edinburgh, kidnapping children and leaving their bodies in alleys. Georgina needs to find his latest victim while there’s still a chance they are alive.

Two different people searching for two different things, and yet their paths cross in unpredictable ways. But the more each of them discovers, the more they realize their searches are more dangerous than either one ever anticipated.

“Because a murder investigation is first and foremost a hired investigation; your client may be silent and dead, but he is still screaming out for justice.”

This book shocked me! I was expecting a hunt through time to solve a lost mystery. But, the present day twists with McBride’s serial killer hunt kept me on my toes! It was easy to lulled into the mystery of this lost film, and what happened to Sekular. As soon as you got comfortable in that story, you were slammed into the present day with the hunt for this killer. In addition, we get some narration from Elliot, the killer himself, told in such a way that you aren’t sure who he is going to end up being, or why he is important to Whitman and this film.

There is graphic violence in this book, both in what Elliot does to his victims and some flashbacks of other scenes in characters lives. One particular scene of animal cruelty was two pages I skipped, it was that grotesque. So, if that sort of violence unnerves you or makes you queasy, this may not be the book for you.

As far as dark thrillers, this book is crazy dark and crazy intense. I was climbing the walls, reading between my fingers, and definitely leaving the lights on to make it through this book! The author does a fantastic job weaving characters in and out of the plot, and just when you’ve forgotten about someone, they pop back in to play. He has a talent for making you look to the left and then hitting you from the right. Every twist and turn was like plummeting down a roller coaster blind folded. It is exhilarating but also terrifying.

My favorite parts are when we are taken below ground into ancient and forgotten parts of Edinburgh. Areas simply entombed over in the name of progress. Skariton does an insane job bringing places to life. I could taste the dust and smell the stale air as crypts and catacombs were discovered and explored. And nothing says creepy more than underground houses, forgotten tunnels and old graveyards.

“You could have walked past it every day on the way to work and you wouldn’t have noticed it, padlocked behind doors or hidden underground. It was right there, for everyone to see, yet it was unknown. But that was Edinburgh, revealing itself only in the constant vigilance of dark, steady eyes.”

I did read this as an ARC, so there were some pieces that seemed incomplete. I don’t mean the writing, it’s more the presentation of the book. This is a book that has art within the book, and with those pieces missing, it felt a little confusing. Some were there, but notes at the bottom and the notes in the back seemed to not quite be finished, so I didn’t feel that I got the entire experience.

The hardest thing, and again, this may be fixed in a final copy, is there weren’t any years in the chapter headers. The book is divided into sections with the date (month and day) listed at the beginning of each section. But, the narration jumps between the years quite a bit and it can get confusing, especially as we are reading between multiple points of view. It isn’t overwhelming, but I did have to backtrack a few times to figure out where I was supposed to be.

In all, this book was perfect for October reading and for the #spookathon. It will leave your heart racing and your stomach churning as you hold your breath waiting to read the outcome. If you like dark, if you love thrillers, and you don’t mind some intense violence, this book is definitely for you!

I won this in a giveaway from AA Knopf, and was not required or obligated to review.