The Calling
Robert Swartwood

Paperback, 342 Pages, $14.95
Review by Darkeva

Robert Swartwood starts off The Calling with the line “life isn’t fair” to introduce us to the main character’s life and his parents, which was an interesting approach, especially because of the use of the second person, which, traditionally, one is told to avoid in fiction. Nonetheless, it hooked me so that I wanted to go on reading.

The protagonist, Christopher, comes home to find his parents dead. The police suspect him at first, but later clear him of the charges. As he begins to find out more about his parents, he has to try to outrun the killer who he believes is after him at the same time, which he thinks might be a demon.

The first person narrative was engaging enough, but I wondered why Chris didn’t seem to feel sorry at all that his parents died. He went into a state of shock, of course, but I felt as though Swartwood could have done a better job conveying to the reader just how deep Chris’ loss was supposed to be.

This novel is small town horror at its best. With this in mind, Chris travels to a small town after a middle section that largely drags and makes the reader wonder what the point of all of this is. Turns out that the main baddie behind all of this is none other than the angel, Sammael (he’s the angel of death in this version as opposed to Azriel), and Chris has to stop his plans, which aren’t immediately made apparent.

Despite some struggles with the plot, the characterization was one of the strong points with this book, and it was refreshing to see fully fleshed out secondary characters, which are often neglected, particularly that of Joey, a young man whose acquaintance Chris makes in town, and who seems deliberately weird at first, but turns out to have a more important role than one would initially think.

Sammael reveals Chris’ family history and that his parents (and grandfather, to be more exact) weren’t exactly the paragons of virtue. And although he doesn’t technically explain where Chris’ neat Dead Zone “I touch people and see their secrets” ability without the ‘dead zone’ part comes from, it’s a cool element that lets the reader know why Chris should have any sort of a chance against such a powerful being.

We actually don’t get much of a glimpse into his past until near the end of the novel, but the answers lead to more questions, which in this case is a good thing.

Sammael does the great reveal at the end and telegraphs his agenda, which although interesting, felt like it needed more clues to be planted by the author earlier in the novel, or some more elements of foreshadowing. In this version, Sammael and Lucifer are separate entities and Sammy doesn’t think that Lucifer did a good enough job sticking it to God, so Sammael has raised an army of the Fallen to help him give God the ultimate middle finger. Only Chris can stop him.

I did wonder how Chris survives near the end, as his confrontation with Sammael seemed a bit too easy and sudden, and the epic battle wasn’t nearly as epic as I would have liked it to be (though Swartwood did write Sammael reasonably well as a character). I understood why Chris’ new role involves saving thirteen people in every town, but I had more questions than when I went in and not necessarily in a good way by this point. Still, despite these issues, the book is definitely one to check out for those who are into small town horror with some fallen angels thrown into the mix.

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