Saturday, April 15, 2017

Gideon's Curse by David Niall Wilson review

    I've long been a fan of David Niall Wilson, since the days when he was a writer for Vampire: The Dark Ages. I've read many of his books and enjoyed all of them. However, I think it's fair to say while he works in a variety of genres that his deftest skill is at horror. Gideon's Curse is a pure horror novel and probably his best work yet because it's it pulls no punches and deals with a dark chapter of American history.

    It is a novel about the horrors of slavery as told with the caveat of also being a zombie and ghost story. I'm glad for the latter because, disturbingly, the book might not have been able to be read without the level of the supernatural to make the truly disturbing elements more palatable. There's also a layer of reality to what is being talked about which makes the fictional events all the more disturbing and I don't just mean the fact America's Peculiar Institution is not Gone with the Wind or even Django but something infinitely worse.

    The framing device of the book is that the Pope Plantation is an anachronism in the modern day. A haunted spooky place with only a few descendants of its former slave lords still using human trafficking, albeit migrant workers, to keep planting even as the woods are full of unnatural things.

    A curse akin to the one in Silent Hill hangs over the place where the population continues to labor despite they'd probably be better off anywhere else on Earth. When the last two men of the accursed family kidnap a teenage girl to rape, the terrible curse comes to fruition with a man named Gideon relaying the terrible history of the place to the girl's family. A curse about a preacher who came to the plantation in the aftermath of the Civil War in hopes of missioning to the former slaves and who ends up bringing down the wrath of God or at least his distant cousins.

    The heart of the book is the story of Reverend Gideon and his relationship with the former slave Desdemona, who is a sort of shaman or priestess to the locals. It's a love story but the kind of which Stephen King would tell as Gideon finds himself losing his Christian faith (or perhaps expanding it) as he finds himself confronted with the reality of the supernatural. This, however, layered against the fact he is acting upon a empathy and desire to touch the divine which is innate to how the religion should work.

    This isn't a fuzzy feel good story about a white man and a black woman overcoming the odds, however, but how something good gets destroyed. The locals don't take well to Gideon, his ideas, being in a relationship with a black woman, or the fact he's organizing the locals even under the auspices of ministering. The idea a terrible thing happens is not a spoiler as we know it will happen but how it does is extremely well-handled with the climax being extraordinarily well-written.

    It's difficult really to describe what kind of horror this book embodies since it's a kind of weird morality play that exists in the penumbra between Twilight Zone Christian morality along with Lovecraftian maltheist malevolence. The supernatural is real, arguably impersonal, and God's power seems limited to how it makes his followers feel. Yet, it is the humans who are the monsters and who bring down their doom on themselves.

    I heartily recommend this book for fans who are interested in Southern Gothic horror stories.


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