Benjamin Kane Ethridge, the Bram Stoker Award winning author of Black and Orange, delivers what is sure to be one of horror's most talked about releases this year. His new novel, Bottled Abyss, is equal parts crime thriller, literary character study, and apocalyptic horror. And, surprisingly, he manages to blend all of these into a strong and entertaining read.
In Bottled Abyss, Herman and Janet Erikson are reeling after the death of their daughter. Their marriage is crumbling, and Janet, once straight-laced, has become a despondent and suicidal alcoholic. Though he does what he can for his wife, Herman is helpless to stop her downward spiral, and he blames himself for her condition.
When coyotes attack their dog, a strange man offers to help. The liquid he pours from his bottle brings the dog back from the brink of death. And introduces Herman and Janet to a world they didn't know existed.
Long ago the River Styx dried, but now, using the Erikson's, Nyx, the Greek deity of the night, plots her resurrection, the return of the river, and the rise of the underworld. As Janet attempts to avenge her daughter's death, Nyx grows stronger, and her minion, the Fury, under Janet's control, seeks a bloody justice. When the river reforms in Southern California, and Nyx returns, Janet becomes the new Ferryman, but will she blindly follow the god and destroy the world she knows?
Although Bottled Abyss riffs on Greek myths, it never merely follows them, and deities you may think you know take on a new, modernized life. The novel is full of rounded, fully realized characters, and that's its strength. The tension and heartbreak throughout is nearly palpable. If there is any weak point in the narrative it would be found in the stream of consciousness prose of the Fury's chapters. These chapters jump in and out of the stream of consciousness technique, giving them a slightly disjointed feeling. But this issue is minor, and if it takes away from the novel, it does so in an equally minor way (and I personally applaud Ethridge for utilizing this literary technique, as it is not common in horror fiction, and adds a depth and resonance to the characters that wouldn't have existed otherwise). A lesser writer would not have been able to pull this off at all, and Ethridge, despite my caveat, does so brilliantly.
Bottled Abyss is a rollercoaster of genre, technique, and emotion. It's a novel that pushes boundaries and treads new territory. Whether you're a fan of small-town horror, thrillers, character-driven horror, or apocalyptic fiction, you'll find something in Bottled Abyss to love.