The Gods of Moab by Stephen Mark Rainey; Damned Rodan; 2012; 70 pgs; $2.99 US
Having been a fan of Stephen Mark Rainey’s, The Nightmare Frontier and The Lebo Coven, I eagerly downloaded The Gods of Moab anticipating another great read. After devouring The Gods of Moab in one short sitting, this novella has not only has become my favorite work by the author, it has become one of my favorite reads of the year.
One of the biggest selling points of novellas is that they deliver a story that is compact, free of filler, and the action/horror takes precedent over exposition and back story. The Gods of Moab may be one of the more perfect examples this reviewer has seen in fulfilling all these requirements in a novella. From the first page to its mind-bending final sentences, The Gods of Moab will have readers wide eyed and enthralled.
The story is told in a combination of flashback and present tense. It opens with a pulse pounding storyline of two couples who, after leaving a restaurant, get lost in the mountains during the aftermath of a snowstorm. The thing is, it wasn’t snowing when they left the restaurant and the road they are traveling on has inexplicably changed. While trying to get control of their vehicle on the treacherous road, they begin to hear loud noises and the sounds of tree’s falling behind them. It soon becomes apparent that something is following them…something big.
The story then goes to a flashback, allowing the readers to see what has transpired to bring these couples to this unfortunate point. The flashback works perfectly, it continues with the opening chapter’s sense of dread without giving away too much of what lies ahead for the couples. And what does lie ahead for these two couples? Nothing short of pure terror.
Rainey has done an excellent job of getting the readers to bond with the two couples despite the limited length of the story. Through the use of dialog, while the characters are in the restaurant and on the road, we become familiar with their personalities and understand their fears. The tension they experience becomes our own. And, this novella is loaded with tension.
Another of Rainey’s strong suits is his ability to describe settings. The changing landscape of the road and the woods that Rainey thrusts his characters into is surreal, but it never ventures into the outrageous. The road and chase scenes in the story are grounded in reality, which makes it all the more frightening. The snow may be knee deep but it’s not quicksand; the trees may be menacing but they don’t reach out and grab people; and characters may get tripped up on vines but they aren’t swallowed whole by them. That’s not to say there aren’t otherworldly occurrences and weird beasties in this story, there are, and plenty of them. But Rainey balances his supernatural frights with the natural, and it works beautifully.
The ending of The Gods of Moab was an unexpected surprise. Though the title of the piece could be considered a spoiler, it was the amount of thought that went into the ending that made it so enjoyable. It’s a hallucinogenic trip that takes the reader through a re-telling of the biblical story of the King of Moab that is as strange as it is breath taking.
The Gods of Moab is one hell of a great read and it is highly recommended.
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