The Forbidden by FR Tallis

6/10 I have very mixed feelings about this book.

When ambitious Doctor Paul Clément takes a job at the mission hospital on Saint Sébastien, he has dreams of discovering cures for tropical diseases. What he finds is a place where the black arts are just a way of life. After witnessing the ritualistic murder of a young man, said to be one of the living dead, he is forbidden to speak of what he has seen.

On returning to Paris, Clément’s attention turns to studying the nervous system and resuscitation. He is told of patients who have apparently died, been brought back to life, and whilst suspended between life and death, experience what they believe to be heaven.
Advertised as a new take on the horror genre, I was intrigued by the synopsis that gave nothing away.

I have very mixed feelings about this book - while I believe it was good, I can’t actually pinpoint why. The book is split into three distinct sections and if I wasn’t reviewing this for someone else I’m not sure I would have got past the first section. It’s meandering and, while somewhat necessary to set the scene and introduce the characters, it’s simply too long and bloated. The second section is where it really begins to pick up the pace and become dark, in places horrifying and explicit, and definitely more interesting.

Tallis’ writing, while not amazing, is certainly decent and he manages to describe the setting with immersive detail. Everything the first section suffers from - over description, sluggish pace, and poor characterisation - completely disappears when the second section gets underway.

If you can forgive the somewhat contrived storyline (specifically the bordering on corny Exorcist-like scenes) then you’re left with a pretty solid, if not fresh, addition to the horror genre. The best (and also worst) thing is how unflinchingly gruesome some of the scenes are - I made the mistake of reading it whilst eating lunch and felt queasy for the entire afternoon. If you’re squeamish then this may be one to avoid, but if you love a bit of gore and a healthy dose of Heaven versus Hell, this is definitely the book for you.

I believe the main problem is that Tallis never really allows you to connect to the main character. There was always an invisible wall between myself and Paul Clement - I could never care about him as a character and that made me a passive observer rather than an active element within the book. If I was rooting for Clement, the urgency and horror that he experiences would affect me far more and create an atmosphere of suspense that the great horror writers are so famous for.

Overall, I had incredibly high hopes for this book, and while it’s certainly not a poor book in terms of writing or story, I am left feeling bereft of much feeling towards it. It has the potential to be a lot more gripping and chilling, but the darkness is watered down too much to actually achieve true horror.

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