- Pro Review
- Discovery Awards
By Dana McSwain
Be it novels or on the big screen, the most effective horror stories all have one thing in common: tension. Slowly stretching the audience’s expectations like a rubber band, only to let it snap at the most unexpected moments, horror—when done correctly—offers that which no other genre can: genuine fear. To that point, Dana McSwain’s ROSENEATH is an expertly crafted exercise in horror-inducing tension. McSwain’s novel opens with an admittedly ‘by the book’ premise, one which involves Nathan and Georgia Pritchard moving into a rundown estate (Roseneath) in an effort to obtain a fresh start in the wake of a horrible tragedy. The decision initially seems to pay off—the Pritchard’s each find a section of the house where they feel at peace. Georgia eventually finds and befriends the child ghost named Edie in the attic while Nathan spends his time in the basement. Unfortunately, Georgia soon realizes that something other than her husband resides in the basement. Convinced that a supernatural force lurks beneath their feet, Georgia is desperate for answers and an ally but fears she can no longer find either with her husband. What follows is a near-flawless, simmer-to-a-boil tale of one couple’s shared descent into madness. From the heart-wrenching circumstances that led them to Roseneath in the first place to the Pritchard’s ongoing struggle to resuscitate the memory of their former life, ROSENEATH exudes a palpable sense of dread from beginning to end.
On the surface, McSwain’s characterizations of a fiercely-protective, workaholic husband and his depression-prone wife could easily be misconstrued as genre tropes, but McSwain imbues her protagonists with a tangible sense of authenticity, one where their shared conflict becomes more exaggerated with each passing page. Offering vivid depictions of both the home and their private torment, McSwain’s refined prose and masterful grasp of dynamics are on constant display here. But the element of ROSENEATH that really stands out is the malevolent ‘something’ lying in wait. While some readers may struggle with McSwain’s attempts at conveying the Pritchards’ communication with the ‘presence,’ utilizing increasingly disjointed prose, the choice is incredibly effective and only adds to the story’s momentum. Fueled by a potent mix of rage and malice, the antagonist is downright scary. Add to that some incredibly evocative writing and a third act that more than pays off, and you have yourself a novel that is just begging for the ‘big-screen’ treatment. As with any genre, there’s a fine line separating the ‘best’ from the rest. While the rules with horror are deceivingly simple—eschew expectations, genuinely frighten, and nail the final act—few authors manage to provide an ending that truly haunts the reader beyond the final page. In that regard, McSwain has crafted a ‘must-read’ novel that is sure to remain a genre standout for years to come.
Be it an under-the-covers page-turner or a gothic allegory for the eternal struggle of good vs. evil, ROSENEATH succeeds on all fronts—Dana McSwain has crafted a pitch-perfect novel that practically dares you to turn the page.
~James Weiskittel for IndieReader