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A Tale of Two (Thousand?) Feelings

Schadenfreude, anger, disbelief, laughter. In other words, one of the hardest reads of the past few months

Even though I read quite a lot, and in a lot of genres, it rarely happened to me to be completely uncertain about whether or not I actually liked a book. Tenebrion will go down as one of the hardest books to frame for me, and please believe me when I say it’s meant as a good thing.

I repeated it quite a lot across all my reviews: the stories that stick with me the most, the ones I tend to never forget, are the ones about which I had a lot of things to say, and not every one was necessarily good. A good story is a good story, full stop. An interesting story is one that gives you so many things to think about and no clue about where to start. Tenebrion, with all of its flaws, belongs to the latter group.

Yet another bunch of people asking for it. Does it ever get old?

The synopsis promised a story about people doing something stupid that result in something terrible happening to them, which is a common theme of many of the horror stories I grew up with and that I still appreciate, because nostalgia and because schadenfreude (finally a chance to put my German classes to a good use, yay). What I couldn’t imagine wasn’t the scale of what they were facing, nor how much it would have grossed me out.

I’m not one that’s easily impressed, but as I read the book I was so grossed by what I was reading (maybe my English.exe stopped working, but I can’t think to another word more appropriate than grossed here) that it took longer than expected to finish it and to wrap my head around it. I have nothing agains the use of gore and physical horror, but I always prefer when it’s placed at the service of the story instead of just being thrown at my face. At some points, it sounded a bit too much graphic violence for the sake of it and for shock value.

It felt gratuitous, as if all James Longmore wanted was to make a full display of sadistic satisfaction and show the most perverse of torments for each one of the protagonists trapped in Watsonville Elementary School. Not that they deserve much sympathy: they’re all selfish assholes.

The way they’re convinced to go on with the shooting of the short film despite all the red flags, or the way they convince the others to go on with it speaks millions about their greed and disregard for others and for their own personal safety. A bit of motivation is given for this behavior, and in my opinion it worked very well in contrasting the monster inside the school with the figurative ones outside of it, but the thing remain: I didn’t care about any of the protagonists, not even the slightest bit.

A (not very) honorable mention here goes to the female characters here, insufferable and pitted against each other in a fight way too familiar to us girls who grew up in the ’90s and early ’00s. I remember it too well, and it’s not a fond memory. These girls fight for one (or more) of the male characters, what else. And yes, they’re all described as conventionally attractive, lascivious and sexy as only the worst example of male gaze would dare picture them.

I have a small doubt about the attractiveness of one of the three women in this book, but in any case she’s there because she’s the girlfriend of the protagonist so she doesn’t really need to be the object of sexual desire. And she’s the one that tends to act as a killjoy in the first part of the book. You see, everything checks out.

The (very) small diplomatic voice inside me kept repeating that “maybe is just to show how terrible they are” and I tried to give this hypothesis the benefit of the doubt. But it felt a bit too much: if after the wild rollercoaster that was the finale of the book I still remember being upset about the treatment of the female characters and I’m still piqued about it, you can be sure that it was heavy and it was repeated across the entire book. It really disturbed me to a point that I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t seen it.

Turn the crazy up to infinity

Now that I got my rant out of the way, it would be disingenuous not to mention the several parts where the book went into the realm of genius, or a little bit below. I already said how I loved the monster in-monsters out contraposition, but I also appreciated how it handled the fate of the early victims. It made me expect some more psychological-related fate for the other characters too, combined with the fact that the big baddie seems very good at playing with their heads.

Even though this side of the story wasn’t kept up in the second half, as the monster seemed even better al playing with the rest of their body, it really set the tone for the oppressive and dreadful atmosphere inside the haunted school.

The finale part inside the school, while a bit confused in its logistics and featuring the most gratuitously gross sexual scene, conveyed the idea of the crazy spiral of events. It might be an understatement to say that James Longmore did a great job with the timing: the tension and the pace grows gradually across the entire book, and you can see it getting faster and faster until everything goes down in that wild rollercoaster I mentioned earlier.

And the final scene at the pub with the open finale, well, that’s the cherry on top of a story that I regret not enjoying more than I did.

Allow me to repeat myself again, and again, and again. I’ll never tell anyone that they should not read a particular book. Personal taste is, as the name itself suggests, personal. The reason why I post these reviews is to put the feelings and sensations a story transmits to me into words, and try to find motives as to why a book deserves to be read*. Each book has at least one reason to be read, many of them have more than one. Tenebrion is not a book for everybody, but I’m sure it has all it needs to become a cult in its genre.

*and yes, as an excuse to read even more

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