Every year there are books coming out that I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. They may surprise me in some ways (the best ones always do), but it’s no surprise that I like them. I’m talking about books from my favorite authors, like this year’s Joyland by Stephen King or NOS4A2 by Joe Hill.
Naturally, books like that are part of the reason I keep reading. But comprising another, even more important part, are the books that come out of nowhere and blindside me with how good they are.
Books like The Fallen Boys.
I typically take notes when I’m reading a book for review. It’s sometimes tedious, but it’s an important part of the process for me. I stopped taking notes somewhere around the second chapter of Fallen Boys. I simply didn’t want to slow the story’s momentum; I was immersed in it, and surfacing every few pages to jot something down became a nuisance. I decided to let my usual method go and get lost in the story, trusting my creaky old brain to retain enough to let me write a coherent review on the other side.
The story begins with a horrific, ritualistic home invasion and abduction. It then shifts abruptly to a typical family of three. Marshall Deakins and his wife, Claire, are raising a boy named Noah, a kid on the cusp of adolescence. Like a lot of kids his age, Noah is struggling with, well, everything. Friends, school, his relationship with his parents – none of it is coming easy for Noah, and he’s lashing out the only way he knows how, by retreating deep inside himself. Marshall and Claire are doing the best they can to love this sullen little stranger who’s replaced the easy-going, loving little boy they’d grown accustomed to; they keep throwing love at him, hoping all the while that he’ll pull out of his spiral sooner rather than later. Instead, Noah makes a horrific choice, one that alters the makeup and trajectory of the Deakins family for all time.
The Fallen Boys is like a long fuse that’s been lit at both ends, with these two seemingly separate stories burning toward an inevitably explosive collision. Dries takes his time getting there, delighting in the slow process of weaving these two narratives into a complete picture. Fortunately he uses that time wisely, layering in plenty of vivid characterization so that we’re fully invested in the outcome by the time we get there. Unlike so many horror novels that have come before it, you won’t be skimming pages looking for the bloodletting – all the stuff here is “the good stuff.”
You can see glimpses of a wide variety of horror influences blended into this book’s DNA, including echoes of Psycho, Stephen King and even Hostel. The influences are overt in places, but never overpowering; The Fallen Boys feels fresh and original. I think we’ve found an exciting new voice in horror fiction, and I look forward to the next time Aaron Dries writes something this good.
But that’s the last time you sneak up on me, Dries. Next time, I’ll be expecting it.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.