Some of the novels I review can be described as pleasant, humorous little reads – Gothic but campy, dark but easygoing – and I certainly don’t mind that; at times it’s even a pleasant respite. But this is a novel that offers no such respite, to the credit of its talented writer, Matt Danza. “Always Yell Fire” is a novel that builds itself up in increasing planes of intensity, ratcheting up its tension with sudden, startling motions as jerky and nausea-inspiring as a rusty tilt-a-whirl.
The story is set in a strange apocalypse worthy of Dante, Poe, or Lovecraft – a dark, seared world dominated by smoke and ash, cinders and flame. A lonely hellscape ripe with unsettling atmosphere, it reads like a video game (in particular, it is a worthy literary companion to “Silent Hill”), with three stranded travelers vying for survival by searching their ash-polluted surroundings for clues to their origins, and ultimately their fates. The town that they are forced to comb is booby-trapped with hideous creatures – the grisly Ash People – lurking in shadows, given over to these nauseating beings whose merciless brutality deftly personifies the evil of Danza’s cindery universe.
“Always Yell Fire” offers readers a stunning experience of spontaneity, drama, and psychological horror which perfectly marries the eloquent mind games of Edgar Allan Poe with the vicious brutality of modern body horror. It is simultaneously a thinking man’s book and a work of frenzied violence, clicking with the mind as well as the gut and keeping its readers deeply engaged in the plot – there are no wandering minds here, nor opening of other tabs to check Facebook or ESPN. No indeed, this is a novel that keeps your attention as it spins out a universe as intricately beautiful and perversely dangerous as any spider’s web, and it does so with an even balance of psychological intellect and Gothic indulgence.
A fair warning: this book keeps you on your toes and could be confusing if you're not paying attention -- it respects its audience and plunges rapidly through its plot, maintaining a high rate of speed throughout. So don't pick this up on a night when you're sleepy, distracted, or not mentally prepared for a challenging novel. It's a wild one, and will keep you thinking and probably even going back and re-reading sections to make sure you get what's going on. But its brutal and devestating ending will serve as ample bait: you will constantly be itching to find out the ending, and all I'll say is that it will shock you.
As I have said with many other review, my favorite kind of horror is that which is both “good for you” and indulgent – both challenging your mind and delicious to the imagination. This novel, like all great works of horror, satisfies both.