Tuesday, January 26, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Urban Gothic by Brian Keene

Being a huge Brian Keene, fan I had been looking forward to Urban Gothic for months before it was released. But it took me almost six months to finish reading it. I got halfway through and gave up. It actually turned me off horror for awhile and made me wonder why I preferred gore and monsters over interesting characters. I don't, what I want is for my horror novels to have it all: fascinating characters that I don't want to see die, monsters and gore. But Urban Gothic focused more on the characters' torture than on their description and development. Eventually I got back to reading Urban Gothic (obviously, or else I wouldn't be reviewing it now) and found the second half to be better than the first.

Three young couples attend a rap concert and on the way home their car breaks down in a bad neighbourhood. When a group of young black men approach them, they become frightened and run away, hiding in an abandoned house. Or so they think - the house is actually inhabited by a family of mutant creatures.

The plot is a familiar one, but I didn't mind because it's a plot I love (almost) every time I encounter it. It's similar to Brian Keene's last novel, Castaways, which was also about monsters killing and eating people, but had a different setting (a tropical island).

The pace moves fairly quick, having the first mutant sighting/teen killing by the end of Chapter One. But the teens' efforts to hide or escape get old fast. Eventually Urban Gothic becomes dull and monotonous, which was the point I stopped reading. But when I picked the book up again months later, I was surprised to find that it wasn't as bad as I remembered. And it introduced a few fresh plot developments (killer mutant babies, for instance), which kept me reading to the end.

As I already mentioned, the area of the novel most lacking are the characters. Keene gives virtually no back story on them, making me careless about what happens to them and wonder why I should read any further. And because of this, I couldn't tell any of them apart. I spent the entire novel trying to identify Kerri from Heather, having to flip back to previous chapters to remember.

But I liked the group of black young men. They were the only interesting, non-stereotypical characters in the story and Urban Gothic would've been better if Keene focused on them more instead of the teens. And I did find the mutants (and mutant babies) disturbing.

It's not a bad novel, especially if gore interests you more than compelling characters. But if you're looking for a good mutant cannibal novel, I would stick with Ketchum's Off Season.

Rating: 3/5

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