You know what’s a terrifying time in life? Middle School. Middle School is awful for pretty much every human on the planet. You’re in that horribly awkward phase of life where you’re hitting puberty and start to become self aware enough to start asking, “Who am I?” and “How do I fit into this world?”
Well, imagine being back in that nebulous bubble of reality for a minute. Imagine starting life in a new school with a massive amount of new students and trying and fit in but filing miserably. You end up feeling adrift in a swarm of people who seem to know more about everything than you ever will.
And then someone notices you. They actually talk to you, and you become friends. But friendship turns into peer pressure. Maybe for us that pressure meant trading Pokemon cards you actually liked because your friend wanted Lapris so badly, or maybe that meant taking your 1st drag on a cigarette, or maybe it meant giving up your innocence and being consumed by the night.
Oh, not for you?
Naw, me neither. But the book I’m reviewing today takes that awkward, fragile, moment in life and twists it into a delightfully dark experience.
Now, originally, I was sent this book to review by the author, Brett Schwaner, much like most of the books I review here. This time though, I was even more critical while reading it, because Brett actually reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in illustrating one of the books in this series. So, this got bumped up on my reading list immediately- because I needed to see if it was a project I wanted to work on.
And holy. Freakin’. Cow. This book blew me away.
Guignol: A Tale of escalating Horror
Written by: Brett Schwarner
Illustrated by: Keith Hogan
Genre: Horror, Vampire, Coming of Age
The theater students of the art academy of Sainte Jeanne d’Arc present, for the first time ever… GUIGNOL! A Tale of Escalating Horror!
It was supposed to be an ordinary Halloween play, but for Mae and her new friends, the horror suddenly seems all too real…
Presenting the debut of a startling new horror adventure series from author
Brett Schwaner, featuring illustrations
by Keith Hogan.
Take “Interview with a Vampire”, mix it with the twisted Halloween flair of “Trick R’ Treat” and add some splashes of “Let the Right one in” for flavor. Ok, now take that resulting ominous, yet festive, mixture and place it into one of the most vulnerable moments in your life. That’s right, middle school. That’s the quick way of describing what you should expect from Guignol. But just on the surface.
There’s a web of choices and consequences that tie together all of the dark moments in this story and they all start with one lonely girl becoming friends with the mysterious new kid who’s catching everyone attention, Lily.
There’s this beautiful, almost hopeful span of time where the girls of the story become a tight group of friends. And then things start changing. They start transforming, and everything in their worlds unravels in ways that left my mouth hanging wide open.
Dread crept in like fog in the night
The pacing is a huge part of why this book was such a fantastic read. You know how classic horror takes it’s time, building up the world, the characters and the atmosphere before starting to allow the supernatural to creep up on you in the night? This book has that same slow build up of dread that you usually see in classic horror. Where, straight off the bat you know this isn’t going to end well, but you can’t even imagine how badly it’s going to go. Think- the Picture of Dorian Gray.
A cast of vivid, believable, three dimensional female characters?!
Hells yeah! It’s about damn time a book properly captured the broad spectrum of emotional complexity young girls truly have. We underestimate young girls a lot of the time as does literature. But they are complex creatures at this stage of life. Forming their sense of right and wrong. Figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world. Understanding loneliness, isolation, and the deep seeded need every human being has to have friendship in their lives. And I can see this mix of complexity in each of the characters of this book.
Some give into their darker sides, tossing aside their moral compass in favor of feeling true power over the predators in the world around them. Others, fight with what they are experiencing, and question the peer pressure they are under.
These dynamics makes for a very interesting read, where you’re constantly on edge, wondering what each character will choose, and what they will do.
A little illustration goes a long way
This may be the most biased part of this review, given that I am an illustrator, and passionately believe that art can massively enhance the way you experience a story but… The addition of Keith Hogan’s artwork massively enhanced this story.
I enjoyed the cartoon quality of the artwork in this book. Mostly because the style of it almost tricks you into thinking it’s a heartful tale of horror meant for a younger audience. It’s really not. The artwork, much like the story itself, starts off in a more realistic place and then grows the supernatural elements as the horror escalates. I really enjoyed seeing some of the more pivotal moments drawn out.
It made me pause.
Which I rarely do while reading. I tend to speed-read my way through books in less than a day. (That’s how I’m managing a book in a week atm.) But the artwork took those moments where you need to reflect and forced you to take a breath. it allowed you to experience the moment on a deeper level.
5 out of 5 blood spattered stars – I read this book, looking for flaws and instead I found a tale that was fresh, gruesome, and poignant. One that reminded me of some of my favorite stories and left me wondering, “what’s going to happen next?”
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