Come to Dust
Journalstone – Trepidatio
Reviewed by Shane Douglas Keene
Bracken MacLeod is an author I’ve followed closely over the past four years, and with good reason. I was already a fan of the few short stories I’d read by him when Books of the Dead released his first book, Mountain Home, so it didn’t take much convincing to get me to go and acquire it, and I was glad I did. There were points about that book that revealed it was written by a young author, a few mostly forgivable plot holes and such, but there were way more points that shrieked “excellent author,” and they far outweighed any minor issues the story structure might have had. That book has since gone out of publication and Bracken has published several other pieces, including a highly praised short story collection and, just last year, his amazing and terrifying novel, Stranded, from Tor books. That book showed him to be a much more mature and confident writer, one who stands a good chance of being one of the great names of our current age in dark fiction. I say this because he does what all the best scribes in genre fiction do: he learns from his previous works and gets exponentially better with each new release.
And with his newest novel from Trepidatio, he demonstrates that Stranded was no fluke. Come to Dust, like his previous novel, shows a remarkable advancement in talent and ability for MacLeod, his writing more assured and his authorial voice so fluid and well-polished it mesmerizes as he tells us this timely story of social intolerance and fear of the unknown, exposing the ugly underbelly of humanity and religious extremism at its most heinous. When children begin to come back from the dead, it sends people into a panic, and when it becomes known that they have a terrifying, impossible ability, it escalates things to an irrational uproar of hatred and revulsion, and the country is divided worse than it’s ever been before. But as persecution and religious fanaticism begin to rear their repulsive heads, Mitch (Michel) LeRoux will stop at nothing to keep his recently revived niece from harm and to build and maintain a family and a happy life with her.
In Come to Dust, Bracken Macleod has brought together all the best elements of good storytelling, with excellent pacing, mood, and setting, a strong plot, and a storyline that he leads to a believable and logical conclusion. And while all these things conspire to make this an entertaining and extremely readable book, there’s one other element he brings that takes the tale from good to great, and that’s some of the best damn character development you’re likely to find in contemporary, traditional horror. Particularly in the case of Mitch, we find someone who’s easy to root for and easier to cry for, being so immensely broken, real, and intensely emotional it’s almost breathtaking. Once I got to know him, the book changed from a story to an event. Every time I picked it up, I approached it with an exuberance and excitement born not out of love for the novel, but for the characters, and that’s super important in creating a memorable and, in this case, immensely enjoyable reading experience. Where other authors often miss the mark in this area, Bracken handles it with an alacrity and assuredness that’s unmatched by most of the others dipping their pens into the well of dark fiction. You can tell from his afterword that he’s a thoughtful and caring person in real life, and he pours that empathy and compassion into his people, bringing them to breathing, bleeding, three-dimensional life that jumps off the page and into hearts and minds of his readers.
Another thing that pairs well with MacLeod’s exceptional knowledge of his characters is his ability to turn a phrase. His prose is spare and sharp, but it’s also beautiful and sometimes almost poetic in cadence. His authorial voice is simultaneously mesmerizing and haunting, leading you along on a terror-trip that meets its culmination much sooner that you’ll likely expect or want it to:
“Violette LeRoux. The sound of it stunned him. It sounded alien, like a sour musical note. Something that wasn’t supposed to be hanging there in the air. She was just Violette—Mama to Sophie—until she wasn’t anyone to either of them anymore. Just a ghost who’d left them alone in a house whose every room cruelly pointed out her absence.”
Bracken is a master of the English language, and he makes full use of the linguistic tools available to him, producing an end result that is nothing less than sublime.
By virtue of this bibliophilic addiction I have, I’ve read a lot of books this summer and I can say with all honesty that Come to Dust is easily in the top five so far. It’s a story with heart and emotion. The characters are virtually perfect, their dialogue real and their reactions to horrific incidents are convincing and utterly human, making the heartbreak that much more poignant when it occurs, and the terrors that much more visceral and effective. If you think your summer reading list is complete, but you don’t have this book on it, then you’re wrong. It’s one book short. Fix that.
NOTE: Although Come to Dust is a Journalstone publication, that has no bearing or influence on my output as a reviewer. My thoughts and conclusions are my own and owe no bias to the source. – SDK