Pros: Decent sense of atmosphere; interesting characters
Cons: Far too many characters; ambling pace and lack of focus
Rating: 2 out of 5
It’s been a long time since I indulged in a moody, atmospheric horror novel, so I was very much looking forward to reading Douglas Clegg’s The Abandoned when I checked it out at the library. Unfortunately, while I did enjoy it, it left me a bit ambivalent.
Harrow is an old, run-down house with an evil reputation. A new caretaker has come to stay there, and people in the nearby town are having strange dreams—until finally, one day, those dreams boil over into reality and the town really goes to Hell.
Normally I have more to say about the premise than that, but honestly I couldn’t summon an extra sentence, and that’s part of the problem with this book. It takes a two-sentence premise and doesn’t add much onto that. It rambles and meanders back and forth in time, making it difficult to follow what’s happened when or to whom. The particularly large cast of characters adds to the confusion, and often when the book finally picks up a character’s trail again I’ve forgotten who on earth that person is and what they’ve done so far—never mind actually developing empathy for him or her.
The author takes a well-worn horror novel trope—the semi-sentient house—and adds a few trappings, stringing them together in fairly meaningless gory scenes. I know wonderful things have been said about this author and his books, but I just couldn’t really get into The Abandoned; only toward the end did it seem to develop something resembling a plot, and even that petered out rather than climaxing. While there are horror novels that can ride solely on the strength of atmosphere, the atmosphere in this book was good but not that good; it felt more like a mechanical catalogue of atrocities than an actual stirring of anything resembling horror, fear, or even revulsion.
A few things do keep this book from being a waste of time; there are several interesting characters and something like a plot does develop toward the end of the book. However, I don’t expect to pick up any other books in the series.
Standard warnings: This book is for adults only (sex, violence, blood, gore, etc.).
Books with a large cast of characters like this needs to have a handy Cast of Characters with descriptions at the end, so you can keep flipping back to keep track. That was nice with the novel Bitterwood by James Maxey, since it had many characters both human and dragon.
SciFiChick: There are definitely some books with lots of characters where I don’t find it difficult to keep track of them. Rollins’s books are a good example of how to do this; he makes his characters so distinctive in such a short span of words that I have no trouble remembering who’s who. In this book, though, it’ll mention “Mr. so-and-so” offhandedly in such a way as to make it clear I should remember who that is from an earlier chapter, and I’m just scratching my head going, “umm, who? Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.”
I have trouble with Agatha Christie books sometimes.. even when there aren’t a lot of characters! lol
Those lists are great for me. When I was a kid, I’d sometimes have to write down characters, myself, on a piece of paper with descriptives. Guess I’ve never had a good memory!
I personally loved this book. I’ve read it several times and I do know it was hard to keep up the first time. The second, third, and beyond it got easier and easier, though. I have since bought Nightmare House and The Infinite from this series. Nightmare House had a lot less violence and focused an enormous amount on the house itself, with a nice plot. Also, many less characters. The Infinite has only six or seven main characters that are briefly mentioned (Never by name) in The Abandoned. Personally, The Infinite was much better than The Abandoned with a very similar method of destruction. The plotline is much more focused and the characters get much more detail and distinction. If the only disliked aspects of The Abandoned were keeping up with the characters and delayed plot, then read The Infinite. It should feel reminiscent, having the same house, but should solve the aforementioned disruptions.
DoaJ: It just seemed like a lot of the events in the book served no real purpose, and that’s a pet peeve of mine. Violence that serves a plot can be a perfectly valid part of a good story; violence that’s tossed in for no apparent purpose feels prurient or “look at me! I’m a baaaad author!”
It sounds like I might like the other books more, so thank you for detailing the differences. I’ll keep an eye out for them at the library!