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Book Review: Shudderville: One by Mia Zabrisky

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I didn’t know quite what to expect in approaching Shudderville. I had only heard recently that authors were publishing e-books that contained just chapters or sections from books in a series. Shudderville fits that format, being the first of a six-part series of episodes, much like a serialized novel or connected TV episodes.

I was interested in this book from its title, its episodic format, and because other reviewers had said it was scary. And I was not disappointed by any of that — okay, I admit the cliffhanger ending left me a bit disgruntled, but it fulfilled the author’s purpose in making me want to read more, which I did.

Summarizing the plot is difficult because the story has so many twists in it. But I’ll tell what I can without giving too much away. Sophie is a young woman whose daughter Jayla was killed in a car accident when Sophie let her daughter’s father, Peter, take the child with him. When Sophie realized Peter was drunk, she tried to stop him, but it was too late — he took off with Jayla in the car, and soon they were both dead. Now Sophie is an alcoholic, severely depressed, and desperately wishing she could have her daughter back.

Sophie begins to hear strange noises coming from the apartment of her new neighbor, a handsome young man with a goatee named Ryan. Her elderly neighbor, Mr. Mandelbaum, comes to complain about the noise, and in time, he starts to pry into Sophie’s personal life. Sophie soon meets Ryan and her friend Cassie becomes sexually involved with him. I expected at this point for Ryan to be the cause of the novel’s shudders, but Zabrisky’s plot is far more complex.

Several twists in this installment and a cliffhanger made me unable to resist going to read the second book in the series, and I thought that story even more suspenseful, although it contained different characters entirely, so not until the third installment can we expect the plot of part one to continue, and I expect in time it will connect with the plot from part two. I intend to keep reading. The first four installments are available now, with the rest soon to come.

A lot of reviewers have already commented on how scary this series is and compared it to The Twilight Zone (one of my favorite TV shows). The comparison is warranted, but I didn’t find the story scary so much as suspenseful and intriguing. It does not have the sensational or gory moments I have come to expect in horror novels; rather it is more literary in its themes and attached to the classic Gothic literature tradition, but definitely written for a modern audience.

Zabrisky’s writing style is modern and easy to read. Perhaps some of it is a bit clichéd, particularly in the dialogue, but only because she is writing realistic dialogue — people talk in clichés all the time. She does have some imaginative language — my favorite line came when Sophia was watching a television show about polar bears where she thought they looked cuddly but realized “A child was like a Pop-Tart to them.” Her second installment felt smoother and more haunting in its language and tone.

One of the things enjoyed most about Shudderville was Zabrisky’s use of universal and especially Gothic themes that go back to classic 18th and 19th century Gothic literature, such as Matthew Lewis’ The Monk and William Godwin’s St. Leon. Here is the quest for forbidden knowledge, and much like in Goethe’s Faust, a signing away of one’s soul for what one desires; the punishment that results, however, is closer to The Twilight Zone in its twists.

The Gothic quest for immortality is here and more relevant than ever in an age when the media and advertising are constantly trying to make us obsessed with retaining youth. A character in Shudderville: One reminds us that the cost of immortality is watching everyone you love die around you so you are alone in the world.

For the low price of $1.99, this first installment of the Shudderville series is well worth reading to decide for yourself whether you will enjoy it. It’s better than most of the television series out there today, and fast-paced, full of surprises, and suspenseful without cheap sensations of horror and gore. I was left wanting more, and I think most readers will feel the same.

The series is available for the Kindle reader at Amazon. For more information about Mia Zabrisky and the Shudderville series, visit the author’s blog.

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About Tyler Tichelaar