Some sub-genres of horror, I tend to avoid. It doesn’t mean I won’t read them at all, it just means I have to be in the right mood to engage. Occult horror is one of these – it’s very hit and miss. Some authors are comfortable with it, some not so much. However, one of the best things about being a reader is finding an author who filters their love and respect for the genre into their prose and creates a story to remember. Step forward Chantal Noordeloos.
First, the plot. Adolf Zakerny is a twisted fellow, one of the most infamous serial killers on the the planet. When he is killed in a gunfight, he awakens in hell. Perfect. You see, Zakerny has planned this his entire life. Now in hell, his ideal home, he wants to work for Lucifer. However, things aren’t that simple…as he is about to find out.
This is my first time reading this author – but certainly not the last. The style of the prose (which is gloriously imaginative, rich in colour and vividly descriptive) is unique. I’ve read a lot of novellas in my time, but this one has shot to into the top five. As I was reading, not one word seemed out of place. When describing hell – which is a task in itself – she didn’t put a foot wrong. Throughout the story I could picture every location, setting, situation, and character. A lot of people might be put off by the details, but Noordeloos applies it in such a way it soothes you, letting you ride the words and enjoy the story without overloading your brain. This is no easy feat and pushed the story to a five-star rating after only thirty percent of the story was done. Impressive.
And what a story. Playing the cards close to her chest, the author unleashes the graphic details of Zakerny’s reign of terror over a period of time. We know the guy has performed some unspeakable acts, but they are only revealed in small nibbles of information. The story builds to the meeting with Lucifer himself, which is when his true evil is revealed. This is where Zakerny, cocky and arrogant, meets his intellectual and evil superior. It’s a brilliant game of cat and mouse as Zakerny tries to explain himself and prove his worth. Lucifer is having none of it and this instantly creates a memorable battle of wits and one-upmanship. Some people warn us to never meet our idols, huh? This Lucifer is about the politics, not the fire and brimstone, and veers the novella into imaginative and original territory.
Lucifer is a grand, spectacular character. Resembling a chiselled hunk, with blonde locks and perfect features, you could mistake his image for being a riff on every day life. Vanity, ego, and pride – the biggest undertones as hinted by the title – are constantly in play here and spur the story on. A great scene has Zakerny entering several rooms, all of which conceal tortured souls, and brushing them off as ‘amateur’. It’s this underlying smug arrogance that ultimately brings about the finale, but it’s one that is a joy to read. It’s also a scene that reveals just how evil the author can be, with snippets of the darker side in humanity on stark, disturbing display. If this was a full novel, who knows how macabre this could have been.
5 stars? Absolutely. Dark, twisted, undeniably fun and uniquely constructed, EHHS: Pride is a phenomenal read. Anyone who enjoys their horror smart and mesmerising, with fantastic Gothic dialogue and a hint of Gaiman, this is for you. As I mentioned above, only few authors can nail this genre and Noordeloos has done that in spades. Not since Clive Barker have I seen an author command this sub-genre so perfectly. Brilliant job!