Friday, February 5, 2016
Women in Horror: Shallow Graves
Breezy Lin remembers leaving the party, kind of drunk and stinging of hurt, but nothing until she wakes up in a shallow grave. She's also confused about the dead man laying by her grave who died when she touched him saw the darkness within. Her heartbeat also isn't a constant like it has been her entire life. She decides to look for answers, hitchhiking with all types along the way and only killing the hostile ones happy to take advantage of a young girl on the road. At a random rest-stop, an intense boy gives her a flyer for a religious homeless shelter. Thinking (wrongly) that she has nothing else to lose, she ventures into their trap. The events following through her into a world she never knew about, of creatures of myth and legend and the dubious humans who want to either control or destroy them.
Shallow Graves is a dark tale of revenge, but it also has a fairy tale undercurrent that sets it apart from the usual supernatural horror fare. The story takes mythical monsters like zombies, banshees, and revenants and makes them into everyday people except for their longevity, their diet, and their power. They have all the normal problems of human life like income, food, shelter, and all that with the added concern of their special diets, their automatic actions of their nature plus wizards and humans alike hunting them down and killing them. For example, Breezy meets zombie brothers whose parents were killed. They live in a small apartment and struggle to get by. Plus they have to figure out how to get corpses to their house to eat on a regular basis without attracting unwanted attention. These people who are marginalized and don't quite fit into society like the minorities, LGBT, and other disenfranchised people in our society. The cult in the story doesn't seek to destroy these people, but to "fix" them to how the cult thinks they should be: without the abilities that they were born or reborn with that are a core part of themselves. Afterwards, these "fixed" people are shown to be shells of who they once were at best. This practice is akin to typically religious programs to brainwash the unsuspecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people into at least acting like they are heterosexual or cisgender to be what the perpetrators of this abuse think is normal. This metaphor is well done as it shows problems with our own society and builds a unique world with complex characters.
Breezy Lin is a revenant, a creature I haven't seen recently. She's basically a vengeful undead drawn to those who have murdered someone. Their sins are in a dark aura around them. The more people they have killed, the larger and darker the aura is. Her ability also includes latching onto this aura and pulling, usually causing death. Because she's undead, she can take devastating amounts of damage without dying and heal in a short time. She also has remarkable strength and speed. After waking up after a year of being dead, Breezy goes home only to find her family gone. She decides to hitchhike around, stealing from the evil murderers until she runs into the cult. We get some glimpses to her life beforehand: she was interested in science, specifically space, and wanted to be an astronaut. This is also shown in her scientific way of evaluating herself objectively to find out her abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. She was a fairly normal high school teenager with a focused interest. The day she died, she had a fight with her best friend because of an attempted drunken kiss. Her friend slaps her, disgusted, and Breezy runs out. It's interesting that the first rejection of Breezy's sexuality ends in her death and makes her a target for this cult bent on making the noncomformists normal. Breezy Lin sounded and acted like a real person with a delightfully morbid sense of humor. After having so much direction to her life before she embraced wandering around wherever people would take her. The story itself also wanders and doesn't take a linear journey, but it feels more like real life. Everything isn't tied up with a bow at the end.
Shallow Graves is an engaging horror novel with a side of fantasy. I was a little weary when it started out a lot like Kendare Blake's short story On the I-5, but it branched out and became something wholly different. I love how the characters break down a lot of sexist ideas: Breezy is into and successful at science as are other women in the narrative. Breezy is faced with a predestined fate near the end of the novel and she chooses to do something else. Nothing is set in stone and she doesn't care about what anyone else wants. One of my favorite parts of the book is that whatever someone was born with is pretty irrelevant in regard to being good or evil; it's their actions that make the determination between the two. The humans end up looking way more monstrous than the monsters. I want to explore the world more and see her take on other supernatural creatures. I hope there will be a second book. Either way, I will keep an eye out for whatever else Kali Wallace writes.
My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins