"Prince of Nightmares" Book Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Published by Blood Bound Books
Written by John McNee
2016, 189 pages, Fiction
Published by Blood Bound Books
Victor Tevesham is not a good man. A lifetime of greed has left him a sagging, soulless geezer with wealth and little else. His wife of fourteen years, Josephine, even left him via a gruesome suicide, replete with a note blaming Victor. Her last act – a mysterious reservation made for Victor at a hotel known for causing nightmares in their guests – takes Victor to The Ballador to seek whatever consolation he can find. But there is no consolation to be found for anyone who checks in to The Ballador.
Prince of Nightmares is an eloquent, disturbing first novel from John McNee. Reminiscent of Clive Barker, McNee's imagination knows no bounds as he delves into the waking dreams of his characters. The descriptions of their torment is beautiful (disgusting and upsetting, but beautifully so!). I was able to see every ghost as clearly as though they were emerging from a portal to hell right in front of me. While these descriptions were dead-on specific, the rest of the book lacked specificity, and became distracting.
The plot is sound, but there are a few minor things that don't quite make sense. The origins of the monsters are explained, but not satisfactorily. If anything, these origins are superficially over-explained with the what and not the how.
The characters could be firmer as well; I never got a fix on Victor's right-hand man Harry, or what the eccentric Heinrich is really aiming to get out of his travels. A fascination with nightmares seems flimsy considering the devastating consequences of staying in this awful hotel. Most frustrating is the beautiful French ballerina Gia; decades younger than Victor, she is oddly drawn to him and begins an intimate relationship with this recent widower with little provocation. The descriptions of her appearing to be “a confused and frightened little girl”, while being erotic and seductive, yet “vulnerable beneath him...like an ignorant virgin” are irritating; that's a trope and not a person. She has impossible knowledge of what the monsters are planning despite no experience with them. I see McNee needed a voice to explain his ideas, and putting a troubled young woman next to the protagonist provided that device, but compared to how elegant his writing is otherwise, Gia is disappointing.
There are some problems with Victor's place as lead, too. Understanding that Josephine was his connection to The Ballador, it doesn't make much sense that Victor barely mentions or thinks of her before jumping into bed with Gia. If he is at the hotel to understand himself through Josie's action, it would make sense that he would mention her, in his own thoughts or to other, but she hardly comes up. If he cared so little about why she blamed him for her suicide, why come to the Ballador at all? For that matter, why is he the key and not Josephine?
Despite what I've said above, Prince of Nightmares is still a poetic novel, with an imaginative plot, and if you love vivid passages about gore, this book with haunt your dreams. With a bit more attention to specificity over setting, McNee will produce some incredible works during his career. I look forward to having nightmares about them.