Book Title: Broken Shells: A Subterranean Horror Novella
Author: Michael Patrick Hicks
Publication Date: February 2, 2018
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Antoine has had a rough life. He’s a young man who spent two years in jail for a felony, lost his job as an auto mechanic and then comes home to a lazy girlfriend, a screaming baby, and bills to pay. Nothing is going right for him. But when he gets a notification that he may have won five thousand dollars at the local car dealership, he checks it out. Suddenly, he’s then tossed down a dark hole, enters a subterranean horror, finds hellish hungry monsters and no way to escape! How will Antoine survive this nightmare, if he even can?
The author, whom I’ve read before, knows how to effectively blend tension and terror into one bloody cocktail and successfully has done so here. The plot of the story is simple but how to stay alive is most certainly not so simple. Antoine must face numerous monstrous creatures of all shapes and sizes as they try to sustain themselves and kill him in the process. Antoine doesn’t prove to be easy prey and his ordeal is the most difficult one he has ever faced in his entire life.
Each horror he faces brought about a sense of abject terror in my mind, frightening me down to my bones and keeping my eyes glued to the page to see what would happen next. The pages flew by very quickly, keeping my attention. My reading pace increased, and my eyes widened with each new revelation Antoine faced. By the time I reached the conclusion, I was mentally and physically spent with exhaustion as if I traveled this journey with Antoine. The finale was an extravaganza of fury, death, and blood as all hell breaks loose. And the ending was exquisitely delicious and poetically appropriate.
The author firmly placed me in Antoine’s shoes and I acutely felt each one of his many injuries that he gets on this journey. As these creatures pinched, poked, prodded, sucked and pried at Antoine, I felt like it was me in the story, feeling exhausted and at the edge of death. Just when I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse, it did and I pitied Antoine for his crisis and praised him for his endurance.
We also meet Jon, the owner of the car dealership and learn about his pathetic life and his history. His legacy of the creatures living under the ground is one is doled out to us over the course of this novella. But it is the history of these creatures that were also fascinating and gave a thorough explanation of their behavior. It made them more than just a boogeyman in the dark, it made them more real in my imagination. By doing so, it actually made them scarier than just a generic creature in a run-of-the-mill horror story. I wouldn’t want to meet these creatures in a dark alley at night, for sure.
Antoine is a simple guy with a complicated history who confronts not just creatures, but his own dark past. As he faces one mortal peril after another, he reviews his life circumstances and takes a hard look at his existence in a different light, realizing that his motivation to live has been in front of him all along. In this way, he becomes a more sympathetic character and we root for him to win against unwinnable odds.
The title has more than one just meaning, reflecting the themes of the story while also providing a roller-coaster ride filled with tension, gore, and suspense. This kind of strong storytelling is why I continue to read and enjoy this author’s stories, because of the consistent craft, visceral thrills, bloody gore, and strong characterization. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to make sure my basement has nothing like these hideous beasts hiding in it.
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