Review: “Tapetum Lucidum,” Sisters of Slaughter

Rating: 3 out of 5

I’ve really enjoyed the short stories that I’ve read by the “Sisters of Slaughter” (Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason). Their horror novel Tapetum Lucidum didn’t stand up quite as well. Some teenagers looking to have one last blast go out to an abandoned cabin in the woods, where they drink and do drugs. One, Jeremiah, likes spending his time carving walking sticks, and he finds some really interesting branches from an aspen grove. Unfortunately, when that wood is cut, it frees hungry predators who were laid to rest in that grove. Nothing can satisfy their unnatural hunger for flesh and blood, and soon they threaten the whole town of 9,000 people.

The basics of this as a monster horror story are good. There’s lots of great action, plenty of gore, and tons of deaths. Unfortunately it’s the details that don’t quite work out.

There are far too many named characters in here. On the plus side, this means there are plenty of people for the monsters to torment and kill. On the minus side, this makes it impossible to keep track of who half of these people are. Most writers find a balance point by introducing some of the characters just in time for them to get killed in their individual vignettes. In this novel, we’re supposed to keep track of who most of these characters are. Some of the characters do have a surprising amount of depth to them given how many characters there are, such as the alcoholic father of a teen who’s killed early on, and the religious mother of a teen who’s pregnant. Also, there ain’t no way a town this size can support a mayor in such cushy style (cocktails, cigars, golf, estate, butler who comes with the position, security details).

Some of the dialogue feels fairly stilted, sometimes oddly formal, and mostly similar from character to character. Sometimes the scenes switch without any kind of indication except that suddenly the narrative is mentioning different names (which isn’t sufficient, given how many characters there are to keep track of). There are at least several places where there are blips in the description, such as this one:

He walked back over to Lulu’s and strutted in… He shook away the sentimental feeling and walked quickly up the street to Lulu’s.

SPOILER WARNING: The whole thing has something to do with a tribe of indigenous peoples who, as I understand it, cannibalized some of the colonists and whose spirits were then bound to the aspen grove by other indigenous people. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the monsters who were once indigenous peoples seem to be depicted as bloodthirsty savages. There’s also the standard “we have to go to the wise old native guy to find out what to do” sequence. However, the fact that a handful of indigenous people from the area come to help (without single-handedly saving the day) is a bit new and different. End of spoilers

This isn’t my favorite recent book, but it’s decently tense, and I would read more by these authors.

Content note for animal harm and death, general horror story gore, alcoholism, some drugs.

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