Eric’s Book Review: Abomination

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Monstrous body horror meets a fantasy hero’s tale in this Medieval England tale of stubborn honor, witchcraft, and lycanthropy in screenwriter Gary Whitta’s debut novel.

By Gary Whitta

Gary Whitta has had a wildly interesting career, and his track record is evident in his first novel, Abomination. He was the creator and editor of PC Gamer Magazine, and had a hand producing a number of PC Games writing the stories for Duke Nuke ‘Em Forever, Prey, Gears of War, and probably most compellingly the excellent Walking Dead titles for Telltale Games. (Those games are all about the story… I highly recommend them.) He achieved greater fame for writing the scripst for The Book of Eli, After Earth, and he penned the first (unused) script for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

He crowd-funded his debut novel Abomination, and having listened to the audio book, I can see his roots showing. It is cinematic in its telling, and there is a definite ease of entry to the story, with great clarity to the scenes and the characterization, if sometimes a bit straightforward. The two central characters of his book, the fallen knight Wulfrich, and the young abomination hunter Indra are familiar characters, but well rendered. It is the strength of these characters that keeps the somewhat predictable plot compelling. They are archetypes, but because they are so familiar they are easy to bond with.

Abomination takes place in England during the Viking invasions of the 800’s AD. The Anglo kings have been beaten back while King Alfred has managed to hold the line vs. the Danish king Guthrum (Real historical figures.) Alfred, faced with trying to preserve what remains of English territory has turned to the Archbishop of Canterbury who has found some ancient scrolls that unleashes a horrible curse to create monstrous abominations from the local farm stock. These beasts would serve as shock troops for Alfred’s army. (Clearly, this is where we take a break from the historical accuracy!)

These beasts proved to be horrifying killing machines, but nearly uncontrollable, and Alfred had his doubts about this folly. Whitta’s description of these transformations are by way of H.P. Lovecraft or John Carpenter, take your pick, but I had serious Thing vibes from the descriptions, and this was where the book had me hooked.

The Archbishop then turns his attempts on humans, and finds an ability to command them, but the results are deemed blasphemous, and he is arrested, but by the time that the king realizes that the archbishop has deeper darker plans, the sorceror escapes by transforming the guards sent to watch over him, and begins to build an army of transformed abominations.

Enter Wulfrich, the king’s most heralded knight. Wulfrich has retired from battle, and wants to settle into a comfortable farmer’s life with his new wife and child-to-be. But Alfred needs a captain to hunt down the mad priest and his army of horrors. Ah, the reluctant hero! Wulfrich does his duty to his old friend, the king, and along with protective spells from a young priest, musters the army in pursuit of the horde.

This story to this point felt epic. It’s full of rousing chases and heroic action, Classic Game of Thrones stuff. The story is richly immersed in English lore, and full of action and great pacing. It also reaches a harrowing and satisfying climax where it dawns on you that this is still just Act I.

Without spoiling too much, the end of Act I ends horrifically. And we are forced forward in time some fifteen years, where Wulfrich is now an exile on the run, now afflicted with a horrible curse of his own, and despite having won hard-earned victories, is now a man forced to wander the countryside, a feral man burdened with some horrible truths.

Enter Indra, a plucky young abomination hunter, searching for the last of the monstrosities in an effort to prove herself. She is a self-made warrior and an independent soul. She has a true heart but is naive and unworldly. She has certainty and righteousness behind her, and with her innate skill, she can certainly defend herself and has the wits to get herself out of the trouble that she inevitably seeks. Outsiders tend to underestimate her steeliness, resolve and prowess because she is just a girl… Katniss Everdeen anyone?

The core of the story revolves around how Indra and Wulfrich meets, and how their relationship grows as they slowly learn more about each other. The dynamics are powerful, but I think played to a degree that the big surprises and plot twists that Witta put in are such well honed familiar tropes that you can see them coming like a brass band marching down Main Street.

It doesn’t lessen the enjoyment out of the book, however. There’s something to the Joseph Campbell like story elements. Yes, you’ve seen or read stuff like this before, in many fantasy novels. The horror elements are great punctuation marks, and there is a lot of gory violence that will satisfy many horror fans. Whitta does craft his words well, but the story, again, is, despite attempts to surprise, very straightforward, and were it not for the savagery of the violence would be an excellent YA title.

In that way, Whitta’s video game and movie background come to the fore. He is a visual storyteller, and you could easily see this book turn into a movie. He is not, however, a poet. The clues are just a little too obvious, and the characters behave in a predictable (if satisfying) way. John Lee, who narrates the book has a rich and satisfying voice, but he utilizes perhaps four voices, where several of his voices are the same, and Whitta’s secondary characters tend not to have enough distinction to keep clear who is doing the talking. Wulfrich and Indra, fortunately have distinct voices and are strongly written primary characters.

I enjoy a good Star Wars novel. They aren’t anything usually particularly heady, but they offer up a good adventure, with rich visual descriptive tapestry, and fabulous world-building, and that’s what Abomination is. Whitta has successfully spun a story that is both familiar and can stand on its own in his first novel effort. Next time, more horror please! From what horror he did describe, it was gruesome and compelling. But, no doubt, this is a fantasy book first, with a horror topping. A pound of Terry Goodkind, a dash of David Cronenberg, and pinch of George Lucas, and Voila! Abomination.

  • Publisher: Inkshares
  • 352 Pages
  • ISBN 1941758339
  • Available as an audiobook on Audible

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