Fantasy with horror or horror with fantasy is tough to nail down (unless your last name happens to be Martin or King). There has been a resurgence recently in the genre due to Game Of Thrones and King’s Dark Tower series, but true stars are tough to find among the mess of copycats. Finding something truly original and fun to read is tougher than pulling a thread of gold from a ton of dragon poop. There are treasures out there, though, and a new one just emerged.
Matthew Warner, known from The Organ Donor and Horror Isn’t A Four-Letter Word, dives into the fantasy realm with a dark touch here in Empire of the Goddess. It begins with every parents’ nightmare—a missing child who disappears from their own yard in small town Virginia.
After his life falls apart, Thomas Dylan knows he must find some solace. When he’s abducted by robed strangers resembling priests armed with cattle prods, they transport him to an alternate earth, symbolic of the worst of America, where they rule the Imperial Patriotic States. Those with keen eyes will be able to draw parallels to current events in the country and the fanaticism plaguing society today. He’s brought to a strange world that evokes the worst in humanity while he desperately searches for his son.
There exists a solution to the plague-ridden world where the population is ravaged: the Goddess “helps” her citizens by performing sacrifices, but in order to do so, she must procure them from Thomas’ world. Was this why his son was kidnapped? The strangers he meets upend his newfound world in brutal and awe-inspiring scenes, yet Warner has a soft touch when needed, injecting a strong dose of romance where needed, which elevates the novel above standard fare. Eventually, Thomas discovers a possible solution to his tragedy that may make him choose between his son and the fate of his world.
Warner’s lean, muscular writing propels this novel, and the pacing is relentless, yet allows for strong world building. Recommended reading.