Panacea by Zacharius Frost is described by the author in a subtitle as a Demonic Experiments Horror Novel. The book’s subtitle is catching and ambitious. It promises more than the novel delivered.
The novel begins with an interesting chapter. When I try to write comments or a review I attempt not to insert spoilers. With this novel, Frost wrote his own spoiler. Chapter One is good, captivating, and offers something possibly new. Unfortunately, it is extreme foreshadowing. Hinting at events to come is one thing but giving almost the entire story away is like shooting oneself in the foot. At page 236 of a 285-page novel (85%), the rest of the novel has caught up to Chapter One. Because I always knew where the end point of the story was, I was fairly bored by the content but read the entire book because I wanted to see if there were any unheralded events along the way that would provide some excitement and I was curious to see if there was anything in the rest of the novel that was not in Chapter One. There was.
Dante Emerson has a daughter, Ella, who is dying of incurable cancer. The doctor’s advice is that Dante takes Ella home and make the rest of her life as enjoyable as possible. The doctor tells Dante not to try any experimental medicine; it would do no good. A mysterious letter appears. Someone offers an alternative, untried, secret form of medicine. We know, from Chapter One, that Dante will try it. We also know (same chapter) what will happen. Ella will morph into something possibly horrid and anyone around her, as well as all humanity and the physical world in general, will be in danger of annihilation. The part about the medicine, where it came from, what it is, what it does, and how Dante got it are items not cleared up in Chapter One. Those elements make up the first interesting part of the novel. That occurs between the 32% and 42% of the novel.
From 85% on, there is an interesting description of monsters as they attack and are repelled by others … or not. The central point is Ella. The Monsters, or the Night People, or the Scorned want to possess Ella. Keep an eye on Ella, that is the point of the story. Dante reiterates this over and over. And over. And. Over. He will do anything for his daughter. She is almost more valuable than Ava and Abraham (two dogs). The amount of attention paid to the dogs by Dante will make animal activists weak in the knees. Imagine this scene. Dante and Ella are in a house besieged by tentacled monsters oozing various kinds of liquids from graphically described buboes. One of these monsters has injured Abraham seriously and the dog is going to die. In the middle of the on-going attack, one in which Dante may lose Ella, his mind goes on vacation as Dante reflects on the good times that he, his ex-wife Jan, Ella, Abraham, and Ava had frolicking on a beach when they all were younger. Right.
And now, a few notes on language use. When a story holds my interest, I gloss over a lot of things. But when bored, I admit, I get picky.
At approximately 70% of the novel, unusual ways of using language began to bother me. “Eldritch,” although an unusual adjective is a staple of horror writers. (p. 189). OK, no problem. This sentence, “I glance to Janelle and see the twinkle of fear in her eye.” (p.209) struck me as strange. The following sentence annoyed me: “I sigh … while pondering the situation, knowing full well his elusion to the late Doctor O’Donnell” (p. 216). Since the author decided not to end the quoted sentence with a full stop, I felt no obligation to supply one.
The following passage screamed for attention:
“Janelle sighs upon the climax of my tale. Her eyes are mixed with dozens of emotions and very little resolve. The plethora of emotions coalesced within a look of sheer apathy carved into her almond skin. Her eyes twinkle with concern, and lips appear haggard.” (p. 219-220).
Again, with the twinkling. The ability to twinkle and appear haggard might be a lost art. And the following really, really annoyed me because of my bias (prejudice) against over-the-top political correctness. Things are looking bad. There is a final assault in progress. Everyone is going to die until suddenly some unknown person arrives to save the day with a flamethrower. One unknown but female character: “The savior pauses and is seen lowering their scarf. A familiar female voice then calls out.” (p. 236). This is one person, not two. It is clear from the text that the character is female. Please shut off the political correctness feature of the proofreading application.
I don’t even know what this sentence might mean: “They lead her to a separate cruiser, and all attending hands deck enter their respective vehicles.” (p. 252-253). Predictive text program, perhaps?
And in a final last-gasp attempt to save punctuation marks wherever possible: “Velasquez?” LeGrand asks. e He” (p. 264). Perhaps that final full stop was not really needed after a capitalized third-person singular pronoun signifying nothing.
And yes, I found other areas to criticize but that would have been nitpicky as opposed to being simply picky.
I gave this novel two stars because the mechanical distractions occupied more of my attention than the story. I became aware of this novel through a newsletter from Tobias Wade, an author I like a lot. I could have gotten this free from Tobias Wade’s newsletter but submitting less than a stellar review after getting the novel free seems ungracious. I purchased the novel for USD 0.99 on Amazon. No guilt feelings.