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Review: The Deading - Nicholas Belardes

Genre: (eco-) horror, sci-fi

Published:  Erewhon Books, July 2024

My rating: 1/5 stars

Plus 0,5 stars for the incredible premise, minus that same half star for the sheer disappointment...

“It’s already in you. And it will spread. You know this. Your world will never be the same. An unexplainable terror begins slowly unraveling around you. The deading is here. Even the tiny birds will lies still, as if dying has become a greeting, and mourning is a welcome.”

I had such high hopes for this debut eco-horror novel about a small coastal town where a mysterious contagion wreaks havoc on the local population (mollusks, birds and people alike). Think 28 Days Later meets The Bay and add a bit of the Lovecraftian. With a synopsis like that, and a cover to match the vibes perfectly, I couldn’t wait to get into this story.

Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver what I hoped it would.

What I liked:

It’s clear from the start, as well as the acknowledgement in the back, that the author and I are fascinated by the same brand of horror. Eco-, cosmic-, biological, teetering on the edge between speculative/sci-fi and horror. Bonus points for adding in an ocean-element too. In short; read the synopsis of The Deading, and you have basically the description of my ideal horror-novel. As awful as it sounds, I wanted to read that book, just not in the way that Belardes chose to tell it.

What I didn’t like:

There are quite some things I could critique, but I’m narrowing it down to the most “objective” ones that bothered me the most.

First things first: one of the key factors in a story like this is memorable characters that can hook you into the story and make you care for their safety as events progress. After having read this entire book (parts of it twice because it wouldn’t stick), I cannot tell you a single characteristic of any of our protagonists. They are flat, unmemorable and barely discernable from each other on page. This is compounded by the fact that the author often jumps from one POV to another without clearly marking the shift, which makes for a jarring and disjointed reading-experience.

Disjointedness is my second major critique of the book as a whole. Many cosmic horror novels employ this “disorienting” technique of presenting the story, and in some cases it adds to the horror. Think of Annihilation or House of Leaves, which use fragmented narratives to convey the sense of disorientation their characters feel. The difference being that Vandermeer and Danielewski chose to tell their stories in a fragmented way, yet they have a firm grip on them and know where they’re taking the reader. With The Deading it often feels the author lacks that control, and let the story meander away from him, failing to tie it all back together.

That leads to my final, most all-encompassing point: this book tries to do waaaay to much. Had it been focused on just a small cast of characters in a fishing village, dealing with an unknowable contagion, Belardes probably could’ve pulled off something intense and gripping. Instead, there are far too many secondary plotlines and themes railroaded in. The book tries to do eco-horror, zombies, government-surveillance, religious-/cult-horror, cosmicism and more and spreads itself so thin there’s barely any substance left. In the end, there are no resolutions and far too many open ends to make for a satisfactory conclusion to the story. I’m not a reader that needs every answer spelled out for them. In fact, some of my favourites (like aforementioned Annihilation and House of Leaves), leave quite some room for interpretation. Yet at least in those stories, it feels the author knows the answers. In The Deading, it feels like the author was just as lost on how to wrap everything up as I was.

Overall, I’m truly sad I didn’t love this book. I’d be happy to check out the authors next work, as their interests are clearly close to mine. The execution just wasn’t quite there yet in this debut…

Many thanks to Erewhon Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. You can find this book here on Goodreads.


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