WASTELAND GODS By Jonathan Woodrow. Kindle edition, published February 29, 2016. 325 pages. Horrific Tales Publishing.
Disclaimer: A digital copy of WASTELAND GODS was provided at no charge as part of a Goodreads promotional group read, with the hope of an honest unbiased review.
WASTELAND GODS entertains and engages the reader on multiple levels. It’s a character study of the effects of extreme grief and mourning on a solitary man, who soon becomes estranged from his family and lets his despondency take him in new and frightening directions.
It’s also a murder mystery as the main character, Billy, travels some unsavory roads in search of the brutal killer of his son. Nearly driven to mental breakdown by the intrusion onto his personal computer of the snuff video of his son’s death and taunting by the killer, Billy seeks to numb his consciousness with daily consumption of alcohol. And, in the latter part of the novel it becomes a story of redemption and transformation.
The savage murder of Billy’s son leads to a coincidental encounter with an otherworldly stranger, the mysterious Dr. Verity, who enlists him as her assistant in the Wastelands. The Wastelands occupy another plane of reality (or unreality), a vast barren landscape of sand, dirt and landfill detritus. Once the proper subject is identified (they kind of pop into the landscape), Billy has to perform the one task that Dr. Verity cannot do, that of cleansing before Verity executes the ending. These are supposedly extremely evil characters, whose cruel tendencies have been identified at an early age so that Verity and Billy can stop them before their damage is done. Verity extends a carrot to Billy to entice him to cooperate - - she may be able to help put him on the trail of his son’s killer.
Not everything is explained or reasons given. Both Billy and the reader have to accept some things on faith. The who, what, when, and why are part of the mystery and one of the story elements that kept us reading. Is the Wastelands part of another dimension? Is it an interpretation of Limbo, Purgatory, or even Hell? Is it all in Billy’s gin-soaked brain? Perhaps a visualization and symbol of his grief and self-loathing?
The sad state of Billy and his relationship with Dr. Verity engaged our attention, much more so than the opening of the story which was very jarring and disturbing. There are extreme scenes of brutality in several places of the novel. However, they are essential to the story and not splatter for splatter’s sake. It’s Billy’s agonizing journey into the depths and his attempts at recovery that will hook readers. Woodrow is a skilled writer and illustrates Billy’s circumstances so well that we feel sorry for him, and want to reach out and help find the answers. But we can’t. We can only keep reading.
Billy’s daily ritual of drinking at home, then drinking at the local bar while hoping to meet Verity again, coupled with a lack of acknowledgement and communication with his spouse, leads to separation. He turns to his aunt for comfort, and seeks a release for his pent-up feelings through painting. He later finds a new purpose in a small town that his investigations lead him to. It seems he may be off the wagon and ready to begin a new life. But his transformation is interrupted by the interference of Dr. Verity.
Midway through the novel, Woodrow introduces some themes that seem more appropriate to a science-fiction novel. However, he mixes them in with the horror for a clever and complicated blend of the two. The reader gets just enough detail to understand and accept it, but a full explanation is not provided. Rather than take the reader out of the story, it engages even further. We wanted to unravel the puzzle and kept reading.
Things come to a head quickly in the latter part of the novel, with an unexpected ending that disappointed at first. Billy has a decision to make as a final resolution, and it may not be the one that readers were expecting. After finishing the novel and trying to think about it from Billy’s point of view it then made perfect sense. As a final way to differentiate his work from others in the genre, Woodrow wraps it up with a positive message of hope rather than the standard downward spiral horror tropes.
Hopefully, Woodrow is not finished with the Wasteland. It’s a rich setting, ripe for further stories and a hope that the intriguing Dr. Verity will also return. Recommended.