"Worship Me" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Hellbound Books
Written by Craig Stewart
2018, 358 pages, Fiction
Released on August 1st, 2018
Worship Me by Craig Stewart is particularly tricky to review, absorbing as it is, I genuinely struggled to nail down how much I enjoyed it. It is an odd read, both original and off-beat, but also slightly frustrating in parts. Overall though, it’s a clever and thought-provoking horror novel which could open a few eyes.
The entire novel takes place either within the very rural St. Paul’s United Church or its close vicinity and over a brief 24-hour period. The opening sequence sees Clara, who is a church warden, opening the building for Sunday morning service. Whilst she does this she muses on who is likely to attend that day, particularly whether her former best friend Angela will show. The rural congregation belongs to a small town where nothing much happens; however, three months earlier, Angela’s husband Rich mysteriously disappeared. Clara was not too disappointed and blamed Rich for ruining her life-long but rather needy friendship with Angela and is secretly pleased to see the back of him.
Once the action kicks off we are introduced to many of the congregation. This is not the strongest element of the novel, as many of these characters are either too samey or just plain dull and I struggled to show enthusiasm for most of them. Reverend Don Hooper is the charismatic preacher; however, I’m already struggling to remember any differences between Alex, Gary, Emily, Tina or any of the other fairly unlikable God-fearing folks. The only pair who distinguish themselves from the pack are two gay teenage boys who have been seeing each other in secret.
Having said that, this should not be seen as a major drawback, as the smaller characters become sheep in the supernatural drama which plays out when the church service begins, so perhaps too much character development is not essential. Things truly start to motor when Reverend Don is in the full flow of his sermon and a near-naked man walks into the church straight out of the nearby Bulward Forest. There is something uncannily familiar about him and before long we find out why the book is called Worship Me and it’s not because the new arrival is preaching the Gospel, he’s the precursor of something much nastier, which is the crux of the novel.
I don’t want to say too much more about the plot except that the main themes involve sacrifice, faith (and the loss of it), gossip, cosmic horror and a look at strained church dynamics as the panicking congregation realises what they are up against. When an unsurmountable horror is at your doorstep, who do you turn to? If you have been a Christian all your life, will you still turn to Jesus at moments of great danger? You might glean something about the author’s take on Christianity in this novel, or even find a Judas or Peter (who denies Christ three times) lurking in the pages. Children play a crucial role in the Bible and that is also the case in Worship Me, which ultimately asks questions of faith packaged within a readable horror novel.
I would like to reiterate that this is a horror novel, as the review has not focused upon that, which features a monster, and a pretty good one at that. It also has a few very good kill scenes; faces are peeled off and children are brutally murdered. It is heavy with threat, tension, accusation and some strong sequences towards the end of the book with the entire congregation having their faith tested. The lengths a parent will go to in order to protect a child is another theme handled well. The pain of loss, faith and love are also cleverly handled in a book that refuses to play by the rules and closes with a very cool ending.
In getting around to writing this review I’ve thought a lot about Worship Me and the way in which the author cleverly mixes the familiar horror story of a group stuck inside a building with an unknown evil lurking outside into something more complex by throwing in ideas about faith. But if you’re after a good monster or demon novel, then Worship Me does that also.