Four friends arrive at a picture book lakeside retreat. They are gathered to pay their respects to their friend who has recently committed suicide. They reminisce about their high school years and their abiding memories of 17 year old Miranda. As the group separate to take time with their own thoughts, River is left on the dock watching the lilies they have thrown drift away on the surface of the lake. One by one the flowers are pulled beneath the water and then their stalks are hurled towards the dock. River wonders what kind of creature would do that? She hurries from the dock to find her friends. She is puzzled but not unduly alarmed. A minor disturbance. If only she knew what was coming next.
R. Van Brabant’s RUSALKA is an effective horror novel that stays true to a straightforward linear narrative reminiscent of horror video games or teenagers-in-peril slasher/monster movies. From the fairly innocuous opening with wayward lilies, Van Brabant builds the horror incrementally until by the end it is blood spattered and frequently very gruesome. Her main characters, two female and two male, are convincing even if they conform exactly to the archetypes expected in this particular genre. A well written opening passage, in which the characters are driving to their destination and bantering about music, is reminiscent of the beginning of many “nightmare vacation” style horror movies.
As shown at the very first sighting of the titular creature – “ Then, like a worm peeking out from the mud after a rainstorm, a long, pale arm emerged from the canopy of pine needles” – Van Brabant’s writing is often most effective when at its most restrained. Later, when the rusalka, a monstrous folkloric water creature, is fully on the rampage, the writing is less controlled and there is a slight tendency to over extend the ensuing carnage. That said, for the most part the action sequences remain compelling and suitably horrific. There are no great plot twists and this comparatively short novel races to a fairly obvious conclusion but it is entertaining and engaging to the end. If it were indeed a generic horror movie it would certainly be one well made enough to keep your finger away from the fast forward or eject button.
A short sharp shock of horror that can be readily consumed in one sitting, R. Van Brabant’s debut novel, RUSALKA, shows great promise. Though the characters and situations are somewhat predictable, there are passages of effective prose and the author displays a keen eye for grisly details.
~Kent Lane for IndieReader