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Aniela: Prelude to the Apprentice's Notebook Series

by William Presley

Rating: ****

Salvatore “Sam” Valente’s curiosity in the otherworld gets the better of him when he meets Aniela, a diabolical shape-shifting demon, and becomes central to her depraved game. As the stakes become higher and the mutilated bodies pile up, Sam turns to Emery Loudon, a brilliant but maverick supernatural psychiatrist for help. But is it already too late?...

Aniela is a really solid horror story from a promising author that is rooted in Eastern European folklore and myth. There is a nicely reassuring, traditional feel to the narrative; the story is relayed in first person by Sam who capably carries the plot as Aniela’s unwitting victim.

Sam’s initial inquisitive naivety swiftly turns to abhorrent desperation, and his hopeless anguish is convincingly developed. Towards the end of the novel, he expresses an incredibly moving paragraph on the raw and enduring nature of grief.

Emery Loudon is wonderfully depicted; well-observed and full of surprise and depth. Some of the lesser characters were a little under-developed but the strong dynamic between Loudon and Sam negates this.

Mr Presley has been gruesomely imaginative with the descriptive imagery, it’s pretty visceral and brutal but entirely necessary to the tale. It does not become gratuitously blood-splattered and, consequently, is authentically creepy and terrifying. There is a touch of the Gothic to Aniela and this is both complemented and emphasised by the Slavic vibe running through the story.

Occasionally, the narrative could have done with a tighter construct, it sometimes feels fractured, and there are a few credibility stretches. However, this slight disjointedness reflects Sam’s tortured mental state, and the intense, swirling nature of the malevolent force surrounding him.

Aniela is a darkly atmospheric and ghoulish tale that presages well for further reads involving Sam and Emery. Highly recommended.

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