2015 has been a good year for dark fiction debuts and I’ve had the good fortune to have read several. Some of them have ranged from just so-so to downright crap, but a few have really stood out for me. John Foster’s DEAD MEN was one, Amelia Mangan’s RELEASE is another. And yet another that really shines is Brian Kirk’s debut novel, WE ARE MONSTERS.
WE ARE MONSTERS synopsis:
The Apocalypse has come to the Sugar Hill mental asylum.
He’s the hospital’s newest, and most notorious, patient–a paranoid schizophrenic who sees humanity’s dark side.
Luckily he’s in good hands. Dr. Eli Alpert has a talent for healing tortured souls. And his protégé is working on a cure for schizophrenia, a drug that returns patients to their former selves. But unforeseen side effects are starting to emerge. Forcing prior traumas to the surface. Setting inner demons free.
Monsters have been unleashed inside the Sugar Hill mental asylum. They don’t have fangs or claws. They look just like you or me.
I don’t usually read other people’s reviews before writing my own. I’m always afraid that they’ll influence or somehow bias my opinion of a given work. But in the case of WE ARE MONSTERS it was hard to avoid. A lot of people are raving about this book, including Brian Keene and John F.D. Taff, two outstanding authors that really know their business and don’t generally engage in hyperbole.
There was one review, however, that wasn’t so positive and it’s that one that I’m going to address here (this does have a point, so stay with me). To paraphrase, the reviewer said, “spends easily two thirds of the book developing the characters, thereby slowing the book down…”
I don’t agree. In fact, it’s this aspect of the book that really makes all the rest of the thing work. It’s a good example of a talented young author who has his priorities straight. Character development is paramount to a strong story. Without it, everything else fails. There were some minor slowdowns, sure, but nothing so drastic as to dampen a reader’s enjoyment and nothing even remotely related to character development. Plus, while Kirk is building his characters, he’s also building his settings and his storyline, slowly creating tension, building suspense and plot piece by meticulous piece. It’s a common method in psychological horror and it’s used to great effect here, making the balls to the wall, breathtaking action in the later part of the book that much more meaningful. By that point in the story, the reader has a strong grasp of setting and a good love/hate relationship going with the hopelessly, delightfully flawed protagonists.
All that said, if someone were to ask me if there were slowdowns I would have to say yes. There were a few very brief, very minor snippets of internal monologue that slowed things down to some degree, but that’s an issue of pacing not character development. Pacing is a difficult thing to master, even for an experienced author and for a debut novel, Kirk handles it admirably.
WE ARE MONSTERS is a uniquely structured, engaging psychological horror story that becomes less and less psychological and more blow your brains out your ears horrific as it moves along. A lot of authors have written books based in mental hospitals–Ken Kesey and Victor LaValle come to mind–but nobody has written one like this. As the story progresses and the characters are forced to face external hostility and their own inner demons you may find yourself having to face some demons of your own.
Overall, WE ARE MONSTERS is a knockout punch for Kirk and I think this is a book–and an author–that we’ll be hearing a lot more about in the future. That’s my hope anyway. Brian Kirk is a talented young man and WE ARE MONSTERS is one of the best debuts of the year. Do yourself a favor. Go get this book, read it, then come back and shower me with thank yous. 😉
About Brian Kirk:
Brian Kirk lives in Atlanta with his beautiful wife and rambunctious identical twin boys. He works as a freelance writer in addition to writing fiction, and is currently working on the second book in a planned trilogy. We Are Monsters is his debut release. Feel free to connect with him online. Don’t worry, he only kills his characters.