Audiobook Review: Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

29 10 2012

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

Read by Steve West

Blackstone Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Horror/Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: From the opening sequence to the brilliant conclusion Buehlman fills Between Two Fires with vivid images, dark poetry and tempered hope offering us perhaps the most affective horror novel of the year. The combination of the apocalyptic setting of the Black Death, the Biblical battles on hell and earth and some of the most memorable characters I have encountered  makes for a strange yet exciting journey.  If some moment or image within this novel doesn’t disturb your sleep, then you may need to check to see if your soul is still attached.

Grade: A-

So, October is winding down, and it has been a fun month exploring the darker side of fiction. One thing I enjoy about focusing on horror, thrillers and dark fantasy during October is I get to explore what exactly frightens me. There are very few times in my life when I remember actually being frightened by something from pop culture. The first time I remember having trouble sleeping was after an episode of Laverne and Shirley where they get involved with a murder on a train. I was probably around 5 or 6 and remember lying awake, watching the lights come through my window, wondering if a murderer will jump out. Slightly older, I often remember being frightened by a series of Christian end times movie, fearing one day the Rapture will come and I would be the only one in my family left behind. I remember me and my best friend freaking each other out late one night singing the Nightmare on Elm Street song. Yet, as I have grown into a fan of horror and dark thrillers, I realize it takes a lot to really scare me. I rarely find a slasher or splatterpunk movie scary. Sure, it’s disgusting, but the over top nature of them usually just leaves me cold. While I love Zombie and other monster books and movies, I rarely get frightened by gore.  Series of events and horrific happenings in books and movies rarely do the trick either. What seems to get me in the end are images. While the gore of a zombie fiction usually lets me sleep like a baby, the image of an undead mother holding onto a corpse baby will freak me out. I can deal with the carnage of a Friday the 13th movie, but the image of Jason Voorhees’s lone cabin in the woods in Friday the 13th always leaves me with chills. Of all the monsters I have experienced on Doctor Who, I am always most frightened by The Weeping Angels. These types of incongruous unnatural images in fiction are truly what keep me up at night. That, and moths. I frackin’ hate moths.

I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant going into Christopher Buehlman’s follow up to last years Those Across the River, which was a subtle, well executed horror novel. Well, there is nothing subtle about Between Two Fires. Buehlman moves from small town Americana to France during the Black Death to tell us a tale of a disgraced Knight who takes a strange young girl under his protection after her father’s death. The girl is brash and naive, yet believes she has been sent on a holy mission by an Angel. Between Two Fires melds a classic quest tale with Apocalyptic Horror to give us a story with Biblical implications. There is an almost episodic feel to Between Two Fires as the fallen knight Thomas, the young girl and a young priest racked with guilt travels across an apocalyptic landscape encountering a series of unspeakable horrors. The combination of the actual horrors of the plague and the horrors unleashed by dark forces made Between Two Firs one of the most affective horror novels I have experienced in a long time.  I mean, seriously folks, there where some moments in this novel that totally freaked me out to the point where I had to fight with myself to turn the lights out before bed. From the realistic portrayal or Paris during the Black Death, to the atrocities, monsters, and living statues, Buehlman has created some of the more vivid images that will linger with me for a long time to come. Buehlman does a lot with Between Two Fires and while not all of it worked, and the episodic feel often caused small problems in the pacing, most of what he does is undeniable brilliant. It all builds up to a final battle for the very soul of the world, and while the ending has a totally Dues Ex Machina moment, well, in a battle between the forces of heaven and hell, God better go an make something happen at some point. I should note that each part of the novel is introduced by almost poetic King James Style Biblical passage detailing the demonic reasoning behind the happenings, and these opening are simply wonderful. From the opening sequence to the brilliant conclusion Buehlman fills Between Two Fires with vivid images, dark poetry and tempered hope offering us perhaps the most affective horror novel of the year. The combination of the apocalyptic setting of the Black Death, the Biblical battles on hell and earth and some of the most memorable characters I have encountered  makes for a strange yet exciting journey.  If some moment or image within this novel doesn’t disturb your sleep, then you may need to check to see if your soul is still attached.

I absolutely loved Steve West’s reading of Between Two Fires, particularly in his portrayal of the disgraced Knight Thomas. West managed to capture both the dark humor of Thomas, while still portraying his brokenness. You could just here the struggle in Thomas as he unsuccessfully tries to resist becoming attached to this strange young girl he has taken under his protection. West also has lots of other strange characters, from Medieval Knights and Lords, Demons, Angels, monsters, belligerent brigands, and so much more, and brings them all the life vividly. The handles the pacing of the story well. There were moments where the story went off on some strange tangent, or felt like it was beginning to lag, but West always kept it moving in a strong steady pace that kept my interest. West has an almost everyday man British accent that just gave the reading a lot of flavor at the right moments. It was truly a wonderful performance and I look forward to hearing more of him in the future.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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2 responses

29 10 2012
montsamu

Great review and I couldn’t agree more. The most frightening listening experience I’ve had in a long time — but that is probably because shortly after staying awake into the night to hear of a creature with a human hand where none should be, my daughter, having snuck quietly into the bedroom, grabbed my arm. Aieeeeeee!!! I wish only a little that Buehlman had taken his time a bit more in the near ending (not the prologue) but overall a strikingly well imagined novel. As if the gargoyles and saints carved into Ken Follett’s cathedral had come to life.

29 10 2012
Jenn Lawrence (@jennbookshelves)

Ok, most definitely adding this to my must read/listen list!

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