Seed

September 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

seedSeed by Ania Ahlborn

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Children possessed by the devil isn’t an original premise in horror fiction. Then again, many of the most popular novels in horror fiction use premises that have been used over and over again. The Rolling Stones sang “It’s the singer, not the song”, and there’s truth there; reading a familiar story, told well, can often be better than an original work that isn’t.

In Seed, our main character is Jack, a guitarist/worker/husband/father who nearly runs over an animal on the way back from his daughter’s sixth birthday party. The animal appears familiar to Jack, but we don’t learn why until we start to see his younger daughter exhibiting strange behaviors. Through her story, we also learn that Jack experienced something similar when he was younger, and that something seems to be coming back to haunt him further.

That idea of hereditary darkness is handled well. Jack has an understanding of what his daughter is experiencing, but because he’s never told his wife (or anyone else) about that part of his past, he’s compelled to be silent about what’s happening to his daughter. He has to have the right motivation to address it. Strangely, the safety of his family isn’t that motivation, but Ahlborn suggests that Jack can’t speak about it due to his ties to whatever has possessed his daughter. This conflict is paired with the family dynamic, which is already strained.

Additionally, what makes the story stand out is Ahlborn’s focus on mood and atmosphere. She doesn’t necessarily go for the shock in her horror; she creates moments that are unsettling, slightly off-step, to keep the reader a little off-kilter. She alternates between normality and menace, portraying it well, even if sometimes it feels sudden. I would have preferred it had Ahlborn eased her way back and forth between the two moods, but she tends to jump from one to the other. Seed was her first novel, so I’m willing to overlook some missteps in favor of her command of atmosphere.

The story moves through all the beats, adding more conflict and anxiety as it progresses, but somehow it skips over the tension along the way. It has its moments (the ending is particularly effective), but key scenes feel rushed, as if Ahlborn doesn’t want to sacrifice momentum for scene. What makes it more unusual is that she draws out other moments, specifically when showing the relationships between characters, but neglects it in other scenes.

There are also threads in the story that feel abandoned. There’s a strained relationship between Jack and his mother-in-law, which comes to a head midway through the story, but it’s never revisited, and the character conflict is dropped. She never reappears, and that strained relationship — both with Jack and with his wife — remains unresolved. It could have been a poignant plot point.

As a horror novel, Seed is effective, but I found it didn’t frighten me as much as I would have liked due to how Ahlborn presented it. This isn’t her fault, because to me the idea of evil being something external is too comforting. We can dismiss evil that comes from outside, because it’s out of control; when evil is within, for no reason, it’s harder to dismiss, harder to forgive. Still, Ahlborn knows what she’s doing in the genre, and the story remains effective.

For a first novel, Seed is very good. It isn’t perfect, but what Ahlborn does well more than makes up for what’s not perfect. It’s a little off-kilter reading this after reading The Pretty Ones, because I’m going back in her chronology, but I’m convinced that had I started with Seed first, I’d still be looking forward to reading the rest of her work.

1 Comment

  1. Seed — Veni Vidi Verkisto – horrorwriter said,

    […] via Seed — Veni Vidi Verkisto […]

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