Gary Whitta turns from screenwriting to print in his debut historical fantasy meets horror novel, Abomination. You might recognize his name from The Book of Eli and/or upcoming Star Wars projects. I confess that I didn't (I never saw that movie, and Star Wars is too much of mishmash of talent for me to notice names), but I was intrigued by the concept and the cover right from the start.
Here's the (modified) synopsis from Goodreads:
"Wulfric is England's greatest knight, but when he is called back into service to combat a plague of monstrous beasts known as abominations, he meets a fate worse than death and is condemned to a life of anguish, solitude, and remorse.
Indra is a fierce young warrior, raised among an elite order of knights. Driven by a dark secret from her past, she defies her controlling father and sets out on a dangerous quest to do what none before her ever have—hunt down and kill an abomination, alone.
When a chance encounter sets these two against one another, an incredible twist of fate will lead them toward a salvation they never thought possible—and prove that the power of love, mercy, and forgiveness can shine a hopeful light even in history’s darkest age."
Sound weird? It is - but in the best possible way. Abomination truly stood out from every fantasy novel I've read in the past few years. The story was unique, the characters were fun, and the focus on a "familial" bond instead of a romantic one was a smart choice.
However, Abomination does start off a bit slow. The first few chapters are exposition heavy, with a lot of background story and characters to establish. The actual "story" of the book begins fifteen years after the abominations have been unleashed on England. That is when we meet Indra - a teenage warrior girl who is determined to kill an abomination single-handedly and prove herself worthy to join the Order (the elite knights who hunted down abominations in the 15 year interim). Indra is stubborn and foolish and utterly loveable, with her twin swords and her single-minded pursuit of something that is terribly dangerous.
Wulfric, our other main character, has gone from a celebrated warrior to a hunted man who only longs for death. Indra shakes up his world, and he starts to feel protective and interested in another human being for the first time in fifteen years. But this puts Indra (and Wulfric) in terrible danger.
It's hard to say much more without spoilers (though the spoilery things are very obvious once you start reading), but I'll still give you my 5 reasons to read Abomination.
1. The concept. Hello, it's basically The Wolfman meets Vikings, but with sinister magic and a strong heroine. I don't know about you, but he had me right there.
2. Indra. I loved her. She's a teenage girl with epic sword skills and an attitude - but both of those elements make perfect sense in context. Indra was raised by warriors, trained by warriors, and considers herself a warrior, but she's untried and discounted by the men around her. And despite her skills, she's a believable young woman with flaws, weaknesses, and insecurities.
3. Great action. Abomination was a bit gory (though light on it for a horror novel), but the fight and action scenes leapt off the page. I felt like I was reading a movie (no surprise, considering the author's film background). And although Abomination would make an awesome movie, I never felt like a movie would have been a better vehicle for the story.
4. King Alfred + fantasy is a winning combination. The ravaged setting of Britain under Viking threat was perfect for the story. It provided a real-world anchor as well as compelling motivations for all of the main characters.
5. The themes. For a violent and often dark story, the overall messages were both touching and redemptive. Nothing was magically fixed or better at the end, but the emphasis on mercy, selfless love, loyalty, courage in spite of terrible odds, and hope, made Abomination a welcome change from many of the books I've read recently.
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars. Though it starts off a bit shaky, the last two thirds of Abomination tell a brutal but redemptive story of familial love and courage that will appeal to both horror** and fantasy readers. And it's a whole lot of fun.
*Believe it or not, I had no idea what Inkshares was before I received this book at work. It's a really cool publishing project that combines crowdfunding with novel pitching, and it's an awesome idea. The link is at the top of this review if you want to check it out (if you're an aspiring author, you should definitely click it).
**I use horror in a loose, more genre sense. While there was a lot of fantasy/sword/monster violence, and quite a bit of flying gore, Abomination was only a 5 or so on the Creepymeter.