Sunday, 27 May 2012

Review: Doom Rider by David Gatward

Seth Crow has lived a thousand lives, and in each one he's been murdered before he turns thirteen.

And now he's being hunted again. But this time it's different...

The Apocalypse is coming. And the only ones who can save the world, hold the power to destroy it.

David Gatward is a member of my 'drop everything' list, by which I mean that when a new book comes through from an author on that list I literally drop everything to read it. Even if I'm mid-way through another book. It isn't a particularly long list, although it grows year by year, but I still don't know what I would do if two books arrived at the same time. Let's hope that never happens.

I loved David's The Dead trilogy, and rank them as some of the best children's horror books ever written. Sadly though the adventures of Lazarus Stone came to an end, but I have been on tenterhooks waiting to see what Mr Gatward wrote next, and I have therefore been looking forward to this one for some time. Back in February I posted a guest piece by David about Doom Rider, as part of my Coming Up In 2012 feature, and I have been eagerly awaiting its arrival ever since. Thanks to the lovely people at Hodder I was able to dive in to the proof about ten days ago, and read it in a single sitting.

David Gatward is still yet to disappoint me. Doom Rider is a finely crafted apocalyptic horror story that proves he is no one-trick pony, and goes a long way to establishing him as having one of the darkest imaginations in teen fiction. Many of the reviews of The Dead trilogy, including my own, played heavily on the gore that dripped bloodily from the pages. However, there was a lot more to those books than just the blood splatter - great characters, descriptive writing to die for, cracking dialogue with many great humorous moments, tight plotting and an exciting pace that will have you reaching for the defibrillator as your heart struggles to keep up. But still, most review focused on the gore. In Doom Rider David Gatward gives the gore little more than a cameo role, but has still produced a great horror story that will have critics and teen readers begging for more.

Doom Rider is set in Britain, at some undefined point in the not-too-distant future. Religious extremism grips the population in a way that is similar to some middle-eastern countries at the moment. The religion of choice is referred to as The Way, the leader of their 'church' known only as The Protector. Seth Crow lives in a caravan with his sister and his parents, travelling from festival to festival, pulling in the crowds with their show that preys on the public's fears about the end of the world, and more specifically about how and when they will die. Christened The Apocalypse Boy, Seth is a key part of this show, as he has a talent for 'cold reading' people - just like TV's The Mentalist, in a matter of seconds he can read a person, and make eerily accurate statements about their lives. As such, when he moves on to telling them about their death's the crowds simply lap it up. However, Seth is fed up with this life of duplicity, and the moods of his authoritarian father, and so he plans to escape. However, before he can he meets Lily, and from that moment his life changes is ways he could never have predicted.

Lily is a seeker, tasked with tracking down young people before they reach the age of 13, at which point The Protector and his elite inner circle of enforcers, The Chosen, believe that they will morph into one of the prophesied four horsemen of the apocalypse. We quickly find out that Seth has had many, many previous lives, and in every one he has been violently killed before he can reach his teens. Lily has had enough of this, and instead of leading The Chosen to Seth she helps him to escape. Of course, as the clock ticks over onto the day of his 13th birthday all hell begins to break loose, for Seth is Conquest, the first horseman of the apocalypse. At this point the pace of the story ratchets up to a whole new level, as Seth and Lily try to track down the three remaining riders, whilst trying to avoid being killed by The Chosen. Their efforts are more than a little hampered by Seth's new-found desire to destroy anything and everything in his new role. That's pretty much all you are going to get from me plot-wise as Doom Rider a book that will best be enjoyed with as little prior knowledge as possible.

I grew up in the church, and my mother is an ordained minister, and so there were parts of The Dead trilogy that resonated with some of the great biblical imagery that I was opened up to as a child and a teenager. I was pleasantly surprised then, when I read the press release for Doom Rider, to discover that David Gatward had a very similar upbringing. His knowledge of biblical imagery and the events that take place in The Book of Revelation, is obvious in Doom Rider, and by putting his own twist on things he has created a dark, modern horror story that is a long way from the New Testament version of 'the end'. I was also pleased to see him veer away from the norm, by having his horsemen named Conquest, Strife, Famine and Death, which is more in line with the concepts I had when growing up. However, as David brings attention to this himself in his Author Note at the end of the book I can't help but feel something of a fraud by mentioning my this in my review.

Some might question how a boy who grew up in the church could turn into a man who writes such deliciously dark stories. In answer to that I would like to leave you with an excerpt from the press release that Hodder sent out with the book:

Dave, more than a little aware that it could seem odd to write horror and dark fantasy in light of his background in the church and religious writing, puts it like this: “Dealing with our fears isn't about running away or hiding, but often facing them head on. And I know this from experience thanks to drowning as a kid and, years later, deciding I'd had enough of being terrified of water and learning to swim. It was scary, but it was also the only way I could think of to deal with it. Which is why I love horror. It's a genre unafraid to deal with the darker things in life (and death). It scares and horrifies and disgusts, as
much as it entertains and forces us to ask questions. Then there's the other side of it, too. I love a good, scary story! I love creating horrifying monsters and putting my characters in situations they simply can't survive, but do. It's a part of that sense of being a kid again, and creeping downstairs in the middle of the night so as not to wake the parents to watch a horror movie on TV because you really don't want them to know you've just seen a head explode in full-blown technicolour, and some terrifying demon launch itself at the next hapless victim, claws dripping in blood... And you know what? I'm happy with that."

Doom Rider is a standalone story and the book is scheduled to be released in paperback on 5th July. My thanks go to the generous people at Hodder for sending me a copy to review.

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