Stygian, by Santino Hassell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Book Release Date: October 26, 2016
Narrated By: Geoffrey Alan
Audio Release Date: September 30, 2016
Book Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Audio Book Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Jeremy has been isolated and adrift since the death of his brother. Most people just see him as the skinny emo kid who wears eyeliner and plays drums. No one gets him. Nobody tries. He thought the indie rock band Stygian would become his anchor, but—lost in their own problems—they’re far from the family he sought.
Still, hoping to get close to Kennedy, the band’s enigmatic guitarist, he follows Stygian to northern Louisiana for a summer retreat. They had planned to spend six weeks focusing on new music but things go awry as soon as they arrive at the long-deserted Caroway mansion. Tempers flare, sexual tension boils over into frustration, and Jeremy turns away from the band to find a friend in his eerily beautiful landlord Hunter Caroway.
Kennedy suspects there’s something off about the creepy mansion and its mysterious owners, but Jeremy thinks he’s finally found somewhere he fits. It isn’t until Kennedy forces the Caroway’s secrets into the light that Jeremy realizes belonging sometimes comes with a price.
Santino Hassell is a favourite author here at JL, but unlike the rest of the team I’ve only read his books co-authored with Megan Erikson, and not any written by himself. I’m not entirely sure why I chose this to be my first, as it’s not my usual style. If you read my co-authored review of the All in Fear anthology you know I don’t consider myself a horror fan at all, but I do love gothic fiction, like Edgar Allen Poe and Victorian sensationalist stories, and the southern gothic aesthetic which is the central motif of Stygian. So perhaps it’s not such an odd decision after all.
Written as an homage to the excellent works of queer gothic horror writer Poppy Z Brite, Stygian takes place one swelteringly hot summer in Louisiana, as the titular Texas-based indie band rents a plantation-style mansion to work on their new album. Anyone familiar with the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries/True Blood or even Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles will recognise the tropes of the novel: stifling heat leading to hotter flares of temper, the locals who ‘know things’ but refuse to talk to outsiders, lazy days and desperate nights, the sense of creeping disquiet…all wrapped up with endless personality conflicts between the angst-ridden members of the band, an (un)requited crush, the secrets contained within the dilapidated house, and the equally mysterious owners.
I love the use of the word stygian – as the name of for this immensely dysfunctional, broodingly charismatic band, and title for this intense, paranormal novel – but is the oppressive, hellish ambience conjured by the name actually found in the book? Is this is a creepy tale of psychological horror, guaranteed to send shivers up your spine? Is there at least hot as hell sex? …Maybe? Honestly, I have no idea: it could be the most terrifying story ever told and I’d never know, because the audiobook was so abysmal I didn’t feel a thing.
At first, I thought the audio recording was done by a machine; the sound quality was terrible, with crackles, popping and static, no pauses between passages or character beats, and quite possibly the most monotone delivery I’ve heard outside Ben Stein’s infamous ‘Bueller?’ I often had no idea who was speaking, both because there were no breaks to designate dialogue switching and the tonal reflections remained virtually identical for everyone – Hunter managed a bit of a (monotone) drawl, Kennedy sometimes sounded like he was sucking on a cough drop, but otherwise the only difference was the vehemence of the delivery, either quiet or shouting. It’s entirely probable this is a spooky, sexy story, but you’d never know it from the audiobook. I was perpetually frustrated and nearly gave up listening on multiple occasions because I felt nothing at all, for the characters, the plot, the ambience, nothing. I’m actually angry the audio let me down so badly, because I wanted to enjoy my first Santino story and I really didn’t.
I’m sure I’ll revisit this novel in the future, and will probably even enjoy it – I know he’s a gritty, often brutally intense writer, so even without the barrier of a terrible audio recording we may not get on, but I appreciate the way he doesn’t flinch from including real life issues and believable emotional turmoil in romance, and so I look forward to beginning his Five Boroughs series (and upcoming urban fantasy Insight!) instead. 🙂
Santino was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into a guy who spends his days and nights writing romance with an edge.
Santino is a dedicated gamer, a former fanfic writer, an ASoIaF mega nerd, a Grindr enthusiast, but most of all he is a writer of queer fiction that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.
You can find him online at http://santinohassell.com/
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I received this audio book in exchange for a fair and honest review.