S. A. Hunt is an indie author who, while being on the cusp of becoming the ‘next big thing’, still manages to keep his feet firmly on the ground and is happy to support his fellow indie authors. I’ve been meaning to read one of his books for a while as I’ve a soft spot for horror stories, and eventually settled on his latest, Malus Domestica. However, I was a bit worried. I enjoy Steven King’s work enormously and was a big fan of Clive Barker in my twenties from his earliest Books of Blood through The Great and Secret Show, Imajica, Weaveworld and Everville to Coldheart Canyon. Could Malus Domestica live up to being billed in the same company?
From the award-winning author of the Outlaw King series comes another harrowing adventure in the grand tradition of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Charlaine Harris.
Robin Martine has come a long way.
She’s not your usual college-age girl. More often than not, Robin’s washing a load of gory clothes at the laundromat, or down at the lake throwing hatchets at pumpkins. She lives in an old van, collects swords, and dyes her mohawk blue.
Also, she kills witches for a living on YouTube.
You see, Robin’s life was turned upside down by those hideous banshees from Hell. She spent high-school in a psych ward, drugged out of her head for telling the cops her mother Annie was murdered with magic. Magic from a witch named Marilyn Cutty.
After a 3-year warpath across America, she’s come home to end Cutty for good.
But she’ll have to battle hog-monsters, a city full of raving maniacs, and a killer henchman called the “Serpent” if she wants to end the coven’s reign over the town of Blackfield once and for all.
You have to have some balls to put your work in the same company as Stephen King and Clive Barker (sorry, I’ve not read any Charlaine Harris), either that, or unswerving confidence in your own talent. My guess with S. A. Hunt it’s a bit of both, and in Malus Domestica I can see why. This is an excellent book, with a strong, character-led storyline that’s as unsettling as a childhood nightmare yet twice as entertaining.
A young woman, Robin Martine returns to her hometown, Blackfield, for the first time in years, finally ready to confront her past. At the same time a father and son, Leon and Wayne, move into Robin’s old home, hoping to start life anew after the death of Wayne’s mother. After a simple walk home from his first day at school goes horribly wrong, Wayne survives due to the kindness of their elderly neighbour, Marilyn Cutty. But Cutty isn’t what she seems, as Robin Martine already knows, because Cutty killed her mother years before, with magic.
In Malus Domestica, Hunt has written a story right up there with the best horror authors. From the slow drip of fear during the opening scene as two Mormons realise they should never have agreed to a meal, through to the book’s bloody denouement, Hunt creates a modern take on an old tale with a cracking female lead.
Robin Martine is a great character, both vulnerable and as hard as teak, lost and alone in the world. but driven by the need to revenge her mother. At Blackfield she is supported by equally compelling characters, her old friend Joel and ex-army vet, Kenway, who slowly provides a balancing compassion to Robin’s relentlessness, plus a whole host more.
I loved the atmosphere Hunt built through the story, gradually pulling back the veneer of normality to show us a community ruled by powers rooted in blood and fear, all the while avoiding the many horror cliches but still sprinkling enough weirdness throughout to make the premise unique. The first half of the book really did have the feeling of a Stephen King novel but by the end it was very much in Clive Barker territory, yet uniquely S. A. Hunt. And it’s funny, too.
While the story gradually darkens as it progresses, there were some wonderful carefree moments as well, especially early on as Wayne makes friends at school and agrees to go out on an adventure. It takes real skill to be able to write both light and dark convincingly, and Hunt handles this well.
The book itself wasn’t perfect, there was a little too much explaining how the powers worked for my liking, and while I enjoyed the Avengers style action with the Order of the Dog Star, I felt their sudden appearance was too convenient and needed a little more foreshadowing. That said, these are minor points and didn’t take away any of the shine from what is an excellent book. For once, the comparisons were well deserved. I don’t think it will be long before authors are selling their books “in the tradition of S. A. Hunt.” Highly recommended.
To buy Malus Domestica from Amazon.co.uk click here
To buy Malus Domestica from Amazon.com click here
Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.