Book Review: Sullen Falls

By Frank Julius Palumbo

The town of Sullen Falls will be home to the Second Coming; but it is not the Second Coming of Christ’s light.  No indeed; darkness has come to town.

 Seth is a man with his own dark past, but he has trodden a path to the light.  He arrives at Sullen Falls on the cusp of the Second Coming, but will it be enough?  And Sullen Falls holds more than just danger for Seth.  His love still lives in town, but when he left, he left suddenly.  Will she be able to forgive him?

And will it matter?  Because it is not just this small town at risk.  The whole world is threatened by the Second Coming.”

If I had to pigeon-hole this, where would I place it?  Fantasy horror probably.  It’s fantastic and it’s horrible!  Perfect.  With an early caveat that this book is definitely certificate 18, I will declare my hand; I really enjoyed it.  It was a book that I wanted to keep on reading, and that really is the key.  Perhaps a bit much in places, and lacking some depth in others, but overall this is a cracking read simply because of the pace, imagination, and the simple gory horror.  Not a book I will forget (or be allowed to forget) in a while.

Set in modern-day America, a small town on a lake somewhere out of the way – the kind of quiet town that could easily be forgotten – SullenFalls_BookCoverthe opening to this book was quite sedate and a touch perplexing.  Being reasonably well-versed in a range of fantasy, I didn’t know where it was going, but it didn’t take too long to find out.  The first couple of chapters are a bit slow and jump POV a lot (which the whole book does), but it doesn’t take long to get going.  And when it does, it doesn’t let up until the finale.

The book is written in multiple third-person, and we hop between characters frequently and freely; dipping into both good guys and bad.  POV (and particularly this kind of POV) has been on my mind recently, and though I suspect some people will find it a bit “distant” or “fleeting”, I really liked it.  We spend enough time with key characters to get to know them, and although I wouldn’t say we really get intimate with anyone in particular (we get closest to Seth certainly), I don’t really care about that.  This is about the troubling events at Sullen Falls, and those events are well portrayed.

In a sense then, this is not a book to become “absorbed” in – I was never so hooked to a character that I needed to find out what happened to them (and indeed, the fates of many characters are rather pre-ordained!)  However, regardless of this, it is a book I was hungry to carry on reading, and I found myself picking it up just about anywhere to dip into events.  I would call that a success.

So – were there any bits that didn’t work so well for me?  Well maybe a few, but if the premise, the raw horror & the pace of this sound appealing, then the negatives are really rather elementary.  But for the record, here are some of the things that I recall.

In parts of the novel (particularly early on) there are some quite protracted areas of pure physical description – scenery and surroundings painted in a thousand words.  This was particularly frustrating in the opening chapter or two (when I didn’t have sight of the story), but once I was invested, I just found myself scanning any such areas.

As mentioned above, the human aspect is probably at the shallower end of the spectrum.  This certainly is not saying that the human element is absent – it is absolutely about humanity, its horrors, and equally, the finer aspects of the human condition – but I could certainly point to books where we get to “know” the key protagonists better.  I personally don’t think this is a problem, but I think it’s worth calling out in my review.

Finally, and probably really the only major aspect that I would call out as ‘off-putting’ to me personally, is the level of … muchness.  In places, the detail might just be a bit too heavy for my liking – too much gore; too much disturbing sexual acts (yes, fornication is a big part of this book for good reason); and too much general unspeakableness.  But this is a horror fantasy book I hear you cry!  And yes, I do agree with that.  But I am not calling out the inclusion of such detail as a problem; rather the repetition.  Let me try and explain.

Gore, disturbing fornication, and general atrocities are required in this book; and they add real effect, too.  However, by the end of the novel, we know the sorts of things that are going on.  And yet we are drawn through the eyes of the protagonists to take in the details once more.  I don’t know about you, but I’d probably be averting my eyes by this point of the adventure!  And the same goes as a reader.  In places, these horrors add real punch to the book, but in others … it almost feels a bit voyeuristic…  A preference thing no doubt, but when I found myself scrunching up my face in public, it made me wonder.

But this really is a small point.  This is a good fast paced read for anyone into fantasy horror books.  Definitely at the stronger end of the spectrum (though I am amateur in this genre!), but thoroughly enjoyable with good action, interesting perspectives, and a vivid imagination!

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