Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: Fiends

Book Review: 'Fiends' by John Farris

2 / 5 Stars
Fiends’ (438 pp) was published by Tor Books in September, 1990, and features cover art by Joe De Vito.

The story certainly has an interesting opening: in rural Caskey County, Tennessee, in August, 1906, a terrible calamity befalls the small town of Dante’s Mill. Only Arne Horsfall, and his father Enoch, survive. But his father has been seriously injured in a confrontation with a creature known as Theron, the Dark Man…...the leader of a clan of malevolent, Icelandic elves called the ‘Huldufolk’. Regarded in Icelandic mythology as the unwanted children of the biblical Eve, the Huldufolk are relentless in their hatred of mankind.

By crafting artificial wings from moth silk and human skin, the Huldufolk are able to fly at night. And the Huldufolk like to skin their victims…..while the victim is still alive and screaming !

Despite his terror of the Huldufolk who have ravaged Dante’s Mill, Arne must summon all his courage if he is to subdue the invaders and prevent them from extending their depredations beyond the borders of the doomed village….

The narrative then shifts to August, 1970. Following the death of their parents in a car accident, teenager Majory Waller, and her older sister Enid, are making a modest, but comfortable, living in rural Caskey County.

Enid decides to invite one of the members of her therapeutic art class at Cumberland State Hospital, the nearby asylum, to dinner. Marjory is less than thrilled with having an asylum inmate over for dinner, but she relents in the face of Enid’s unswerving devotion to Christian charity. And so Arne Horsfall, now a semi-catatonic man in his 70s, comes to the Waller house for dinner.

That night, everyone at the Waller house is astounded to see large numbers of Luna moths descend on the house. These are no ordinary moths; not only are they twice as large as a normal Luna moth, but when alight on the skin, they cause a painful freezing sensation.

When Arne Horsfall sees the advent of the Luna months, he screams in fear and runs off into the night. And as Marjory and Enid Waller, and the people of Caskey County, are about to discover, the Huldufolk have returned…….flaying knives in hand……….

Despite its interesting approach to mingling Icelandic myth with the modern American, 'Stephen King-style' horror story, ‘Fiends’ is one of the more mediocre novels I have read. 

It’s at least 100 pages too long, and suffers from being badly overwritten, probably because its written in the style of a screenplay, rather than a novel.

The narrative regularly interposes long sequences of exposition on topics that are tangential to the main storyline. For example, at one point in the story, as our heroes are sinking even deeper in danger and the suspense (presumably) building, the narrative shifts to devote more than an entire page to the conversational exchange between a deputy and an elderly widder woman, who rambles about her experience with seeing a UFO in her backyard (?!).

Author Farris also insists on using a labored, screenplay-friendly style of dialogue: characters don’t just speak, t-t-t-t-they stutter and s-s-s-s-stammer because they’re cold..... or terrified...... or both. And the exchanges between human and Huldufolk are telepathic, which calls for extended sections of italicized text. And every minor supporting character is dutifully given their own extensive interior monologues, further clogging the narrative.

The verdict ? ‘Fiends’ has an imaginative theme, but in the end, it’s poorly served by a clunky, labored prose style. This isn’t one of Farris’s more entertaining efforts.

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