Review: Scribe by Michael R. Goodwin

cover of ScribeScribe by Michael R. Goodwin
Dark Pine Publishing (September 2023)
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

In Michael R. Goodwin’s Scribe (the Smolder prequel), an ancient force prowls and feeds in the woods, hungry for women, children, hunters, and whoever should be misfortunate enough to enter the shadows. The Penobscot natives lost several to the evil of the woods, with nothing left of the bodies, only scorched patches of earth.

Finally, an elder arranges a deal, trading sacrifice for immunity.

Fast forward to 1688, and Civil War veteran Jeremiah discovers his livestock massacred. The darkness flourishes above him, with eyes like glowing coal. This is the predator of the woods. Jeremiah is desperate to spare his family from further suffering, which means he must confront the shadowy monster and the burning truth within himself. Through loss, hunger, and hellfire, Scribe doesn’t let up. It’s a grim spell of a read from start to finish.

Scribe is atmospherically reminiscent of The Brothers Grimm, with all the paranoia and sacrificial elements of an Adam Nevill (The Ritual and All the Fiends of Hell) novel. The tale follows the basic structure and embeds the expected tropes for folk horror. I especially enjoyed the author’s decision to place the ancient power in the hands of a child. This reminded me of the superstition behind Ruben’s drawings in Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019), where a dogmatic evil corrupts innocence. When one of Jeremiah’s children “discovers” the scribe, Goodwin douses readers in bloodied dread that reminded me of the overall aesthetic and allure of A24 horror movies. Creepy kids and folk horror never get old.

The pacing of this novella is quick, even in the moments of reflection and planning, which makes it unputdownable. This speaks to Goodwin’s ability to conjure a character out of the woods and its dire hunger for death. Though the novella length is trendy at the moment, I am eager to see Goodwin take his skills of creating an engaging, character-driven, and disturbing folk horror story to a novel-length project. Some of the best scenes in Scribe were palpable with unease, but I wanted to be there a touch longer.

Behind the blood and eerie scene, the theme of tragic love between father and son, father and daughter, husband and wife, and past lovers since buried guts readers. Here, Goodwin boasts his ability to create dynamic characters with whom readers will mourn and empathize throughout every trial.

Scribe is a worthy prequel to Smolder and will be a go-to recommendation of mine for readers wanting creepy kids, ancient evil, A24 atmosphere, and folk horror.

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