Nerves
John Palisano

Bad Moon Books, February 2012
Review by Darkeva

Nerves is one of those novels that makes you wonder how something so good, a book written so well, could be a writer’s debut, their first novel. After I finished Nerves, this is exactly how I felt, marvelling at how it could be possible that this is the first offering of fiction I’ve read by the enormously talented John Palisano. The book has received praise from genre heavyweights such as Scott Nicholson, Deborah LeBlanc, John Everson, Rio Youers, and Gabrielle Faust who all have nothing but wonderful things to say about Nerves and deservedly so.

Like the main character, Josiah, the book will attach its feelers into you and won’t let go of its vice grip until the very end. As John Everson mentioned in his blurb, the book really is like X-men meets H.P. Lovecraft, a delicious amalgamation that, though it may seem odd at first, makes for a dynamic combination. As the title suggests, Josiah has fluid, string-like nerves that actually shoot out from his fingers and into his victim in quite the predatory manner. With this action, it’s like he’s sucking all the victim’s brain fluids and energy out – a fantastic hook made even more amazing by the presence of the victim, in this case, Ogam, who is a dastardly, malicious witch. He’s also the only one who knows why Josiah has suddenly manifested this change – and even more interestingly, that he’s not the only one.

Ogam has tortured Josiah’s family for a long time, his mother in particular, and pulled an old switcheroo on them, giving magic to the children instead of the parents. Not to mention Ogam’s meddling and Josiah’s subsequent attempts to help his mom, Holly, along with his brother, Horace, led to a complete disaster, pretty much. Holly is in a catatonic sort of state, and though she can think and remember, has never been the same since her breakdown.

But as one brother punishes with his nerves, and takes away life, the other, Horace, has even worse abilities. Animals and plants don’t last very long in his presence, because he radiates a silent death ray, and although he, too, has nerves, his abilities are not as showy as Josiah’s. Humans take a bit longer to die when in his presence, but eventually, they do, unless they get away from him, something that doesn’t exactly do wonders for Horace’s love life, which is where Ogam comes in. Horace asked for the demonic witch’s help to find him someone who preferably doesn’t die within a day of being with him, and he delivers, but the price he demands is pretty darn high.

When he visits Michael Leyke, another of Ogam’s associates, he meets Leyke’s girlfriend, Cecilia. A huge brawl ensues with all parties, and huge carnage follows. Horace and Cecilia seem to fall for each other instantly, even more so when they discover that she isn’t affected by his abilities. There’s mention of a family prophecy, about one brother giving life, and the other giving death; Ogam, of course, seems to have set all of this in motion. The brothers, although they haven’t been on speaking terms for a while, have a common enemy in the witch.

Apart from magnificent characterization, atmosphere development, action sequences, and a fantastic plot, Palisano is a master artisan when it comes to his descriptions, which will make you stop and say, “Wow!” over the course of reading this book. Unsurprisingly because of Palisano’s background in film, the descriptions and action are highly cinematic, which makes the text even more engaging.

Ogam is a great villain, one of those who definitely doesn’t go away that easily, and I found it very cool that his origins were only touched on, with Horace remarking that he’s not of this world, and that he’s a demon. I also liked the fact that he showed vulnerability amid all his cockiness and bluffing, something that Palisano integrates for each of his characters with the use of multiple POV. The head-jumping isn’t distracting, because we’re told whose head we have slipped into, and although it’s generally a big writing no-no, I didn’t mind it.

We also meet a few minor characters who have their part to play in the saga, most notably Jimmy, the Fish Man, the Pale Man, who is even more enigmatic than Ogam, and Minnesota Flatts, a shady but somewhat decent musician who has a great role that comes full circle by the end. The Dagu-Chi are an interesting addition – fish-like, underwater creatures that have many abilities, but are deadlier than piranhas and feed on their victims in a torturous but ultimately cool way.

I’m a fan of prophecy/lore/legend elements in a story as long as they’re not hokey or too much into the corny farmboy element, and in this case, I didn’t mind the prophecy element because it wasn’t a cliché at all.

The ending comes together and wraps up nicely, ending on a hopeful note, and encapsulates the thrill ride that is reading Nerves. John Palisano is a mighty storyteller. He knows how to weave a damn good yarn. I have nothing but high praise for this novel, and definitely urge horror fans to pick this one up now. It’s a great, fast-paced read that I think should be on many of the “best of” lists for 2012.

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