Skulls by Tim Marquitz
Review by Ryan Lawler
Life held little interest for Jacob until he found death.
Abused and neglected, Jacobs only solace comes when he is alone in the woods or in the arms of his new girlfriend. But when he stumbles across a hidden bunker filled with human skulls, he learns what true suffering is. Drawn to examine the skulls, he finds there is more than just empty blackness behind their lifeless stares. Through their eyes he watches them die.
With every glance, he witnesses another murder, the memories of the dead playing out inside his mind until reality becomes a blur. A primal cruelty awakening, Jacob returns to the morbid comfort of the skulls, over and over again. But when he happens upon a fresh skull, a victim tortured and slain for his amusement alone, he knows his time has come. Face to face with death, Jacob must choose whether to resist the darkness that dwells inside or condemn himself forever, murdering his innocence on the edge of an axe.
Similar to the relationship between Sci-Fi and Fantasy, the lines that separate Horror from Fantasy have always been blurry with books such as The Stand and The Dark Tower by Stephen King often referred to as a hybrid of the two. With the emergence of Paranormal Fantasy as the new fiction powerhouse, those lines have now almost completely disappeared, and as more and more Fantasy-Horror hybrids start to appear on the fantasy shelves of my local bookstores, I find that I am starting to read more of them in an effort to understand what has made these books so popular seemingly overnight. The latest of these hybrids to cross my path is a young adult novel named Skulls by Tim Marquitz, a book that uses just enough elements from both genres to create a mysterious story that at times will chill you right to the bone.
The story is a familiar one for those who read a lot of horror, a young boy new to town is exploring where he shouldn’t and makes a bone chilling discovery that dramatically affects his life and forces him to make some difficult decisions. In this case familiarity is not a problem as a strong protagonist and an intriguing magic element allows this story to create its own identity. The only problem I had with the story was that it became slightly predictable towards the end, killing the suspense for me, however, this is not a big issue as the clues that gave the story away for me may not be as obvious to the YA crowd who are the target audience.
The protagonist Jacob is a well written and interesting character who does a lot to differentiate himself from the curious young boys in other horror stories. He comes from a downtrodden family with an abusive father but refuses to let his circumstances define who he is, his optimism is a refreshing characteristic rarely seen in horror stories, and his internal conflicts are really well handled. Unfortunately the rest of the characters in this story are a bit hit and miss, with the strength of Jacob’s father Mike and his girlfriend Cass offset by stock standard support cast who really aren’t all that memorable. While it’s not a big issue as the story focuses primarily on Jacob and the relationships with his father and his girlfriend, the dialogue and actions from these support characters are at times unnecessary and often stall the flow of the story.
Characters aside, the story is very well written and does a fantastic job at creating and maintaining mystery, intrigue, and suspense. The best scenes are those with Jacob and the skulls; the memories stored within the skulls are perfectly written and created some powerful emotions as each new memory was unveiled and retold. There are times when exploring Jacobs back-story that the suspense is broken or just fades away, but these scenes often provide a necessary insight into Jacobs mind and the suspense is quickly restored. The story is well paced, the imagery is vivid, and it can be very easy to lose yourself in some of the more powerful scenes.
After reading Skulls it is becoming clearer to me why Fantasy-Horror hybrid stories are doing so well. By taking everyday people like the neighbour down the street and turning them into a monster you can create an incredibly chilling realistic scenario that can be off-putting to a lot of readers, but by adding a few supernatural elements the story becomes less realistic, making it more accessible to a wider ranger of readers while retaining that chilling essence. If you are looking to enter this genre for the first time, or if you are looking for something a bit more edgy than your regular epic fantasy, I recommend that you read Skulls and experience the piercing gaze of the skulls for yourself.
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