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by Braedon Riddick

Rating: *****

Calisade Mountain College campus on the outskirts of a small North Carolina town is isolated and largely ignored. When Amanda Baker witnesses a suicide but police find no body to corroborate her story, she is written off as another drug-addled college student pulling a prank. But this is no practical joke, and as evil begins to manifest itself among the town’s population, can Amanda make anyone listen?...

I thought Ungodly was brilliant. Gripping, immensely visual, and filled with a sinister energy from the very beginning. The small-town setting was used to excellent effect, elements of Ungodly reminded me heavily of the best of Stephen King and Dean Koontz but with a contemporary feel.

The book opens with the drunken ramblings of Elden Apjaw, who lives hobo-style up in the mountain. He is an excellent character without being a caricature; amusing, unnerving, and unpredictable. It’s an atmospheric and compelling beginning.

Chapter 2 introduces the reader to Amanda, who essentially becomes the main protagonist. The early scene at the sorority meeting is pure writing gold, due in no small part to the ease of the dialogue. Indeed, throughout Ungodly, the dialogue is excellent; convincing, marvellously authentic, and flows effortlessly. It is also quite funny in parts without being forced. There is an overlay of cynical, almost satirical humour and it works really well.

Characterisation is also very strong, there is a real attention to individual physical detailing which brings the cast vividly to life. Campus Police Officer, Daniel Heebelow is a brilliant example; although in many ways a prototypical character, Mr Riddick has a lot of fun with him, and it’s reflected in the reading experience despite the gruesome events.

Brian Jackson, who becomes fairly integral, could also have been a one-dimensional stock portrayal but his personality is carefully and subtly rounded out; there are some poignant scenes involving him toward the end, and it’s the depth of his portrayal that invites compassion and relatability.

The plot is thoughtfully constructed and despite what occurs, never stretches credulity too much. There is always a danger in horror that it all gets too messy, too far-fetched and strays wildly from its beginnings. This does not happen in Ungodly. There were a couple of instances that I worried the narrative was heading off track, but it never derails and I thought the ending was neatly done.

The book is fast-moving and this is helped by the short chapter structure, which maintains momentum; keeping the reader interested and the horror suspenseful. This is also enhanced by the little touches of foreshadowing that brush the ends of some of the chapters.

Technically, the novel is well-structured and faultlessly edited. There are linked strands running through the narrative, some fairly obvious and some you have to look a little deeper for. Overall, Ungodly reads with such an easy, comfortable rhythm that you find yourself devouring pages at a time.

So, the book is a more than a well-honed homage to old-school 80s schlock horror; the writing is cerebral – there are some really lovely, original descriptive images that heighten the narrative, the ‘sprawling fog’ likened to the ‘opaque plastic of a body bag’ was a personal favourite and nice to see the correct spelling and usage of ‘discreet’ (my bugbear!). I also loved the poetic feel of short interlude, ‘A Hush Held The Mountain’.

Ungodly is an addictive, intelligently crafted, and excellently entertaining horror. Highly recommended.

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