Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Book Review: Into the Cruel Sea by Rich Ristow

The same day I received Rich Ristow’s Into the Cruel Sea I finished it. Once I picked up the novelette, I couldn’t put it down because Ristow’s debut, released by Skullvines Press, is hauntingly engaging.

Seventeen year old Beth lives in the midst of paradise, but things certainly aren’t peachy-keen in her own life. Beth lives at home with her abusive father, meek mother and helpless younger brother on a military base on the balmy island of Bermuda in 1984. A few months prior, her boyfriend Wade butchered his own parents and disappeared without a trace. The only thing he left behind was a pile of clothes on the beach. As Beth mourns him and tries to move on, she is forced to face her violent father on a daily basis. Beth tries to cope by drowning herself in alcohol and drugs but that only dulls her intense anguish, which is both physical and mental.

Lately, Beth has been having intense and realistic dreams about Wade; dreams in which he returns to her a changed man, but not for the better. He has cold, clammy skin, is drenched in saltwater and has gills on the side of his neck! Beth soon realizes that the dreams are real and that Wade wants her to come with him…Into the Cruel Sea.

Like sunlight reflected off a crystal blue ocean, Into the Cruel Sea will dazzle you. Its pacing is just about perfect as it grabs your attention from the stunningly creepy prologue and keeps it until the thrilling ending. Ristow has crafted a fast-paced piece of fiction, but one that doesn’t skimp on characterization.

For such a short novel, the characters are all well-developed to the point where you can sympathize with them. Beth is the epitome of a teenage girl growing up trapped between a rock and a hard place. Ristow’s writing brings her pain and suffering to life and makes us care about Beth. Still, she is no pushover and eventually stands up for herself to make her own decisions. Of course, the novelette is more about this coming of age than anything else. After years of abuse at the hands of her brutal father and being trapped on the island with seemingly no happy future, Beth’s realization that she can leave everything behind is empowering and will have you cheering for her.

As for Wade, he is portrayed as the monster that rises out of the depths of the sea for Beth and as another obstacle to her happiness. Wade is like a zombie Romeo, returning from death to claim his long-lost love. His transformation from an odd boy who hears “voices” to a cold-blooded murderer to a menacing sea creature is as enthralling as it is brutal.

Speaking of brutal, there are some nicely done gore scenes throughout the book. Wade’s hands have turned into vicious webbed claws and his teeth have grown sharper, which just makes it perfect for him to slash people’s skin into strips of flesh. One particular grisly scene describes the aftermath of one of Wade’s attacks:

“He was covered in long gashes. Flaps of flesh hung from his lower jaw, exposing the upper and lower sets of teeth. One of his crushed eyes hung out of its socket.” 

While these scenes of gore are entertaining, they are never empty and we feel empathy toward the victims. Ristow expertly weaves emotion into the horror tale, which only serves to elevate the subtle terror further.

Into the Cruel Sea is as exciting and exhilarating as a dip into startlingly cool water whose depths you can’t quite make out. It’s a refreshing horror story that doesn’t rely on clichés to move the story along. Despite it’s unique and fantastical “mer-man” monster, it still manages to evoke emotion and be believable at the same time. If you’re looking for a quick read from a great new author, check out Into the Cruel Sea by Rich Ristow!

Available from Amazon!

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