Steve Rasnic Tem has been writing horror for over thirty years now. Much of his work has been at short lengths, but from time to time he turns his hand to novels. The most recent is Blood Kin, and it’s a doozy. Don’t read it late at night if you don’t like snakes.
Michael Gibson is taking care of Sadie, his ailing grandmother, up in the mountains of Virginia. He doesn’t really want to, but his life has been one failure after another, so he’s returned home. He spends his days caring for her, watching the kudzu grow, wondering about the shack in the field down the mountain, and listening to his grandmother tell about her growing up.
As he listens to her stories of the area in the Depression, his grandmother’s memories become real to Michael. Literally. He’s transported back in time and experiences everything with her. And her memories have everything to do with that shack in the kudzu.
The Gibson family are the descendants of the mountain’s original inhabitants, although who exactly they are no one can say. They aren’t Native Americans, but they’re a little too dark to be white. And some of them have strange abilities, such as the sight.
Sadie is on the verge of womanhood, meaning she’s about to have her first period. That’s when the sight will kick in. Her blood won’t be the only blood spilled.
Sadie has an uncle, referred to simply as the preacher. He has a small congregation, which he refers to as his saints. This isn’t your typical country church; rather, it’s more like a cult, one that likes to play with poisonous snakes. Once you join his church, you don’t leave. He wants Sadie to join. He has plans for her.
There are plenty of creepy and horrifying scenes, and if you’re squeamish or have a thing about snakes, you’ll want to read this one with the lights on. There are a couple of killings that might upset those with delicate dispositions.
Tem doesn’t do the obvious. The business with the grey ladies, for instance, is sublte and understated. These are women who follow the preacher around, but only Sadie and one or two others can see them. Tem never comes out and tells you exactly who they are until the end, but if you’re paying the least bit of attention, you’ll know.
Blood Kin is one of those books where the sense of place is one of its strengths. Tem grew up in the area, and his love for the land and the people shines through.
The only thing that bothered me about the book was I felt the ending was a little ambiguous. But then I thought about it some and realized the ending was a perfect fit. Not all questions are answered, which I think would have been a less effective way of handling things.
I really enjoyed Blood Kin. But then I’ve always enjoyed Tem’s work.
I’d like to thank Michael Molcher of Solaris books for the review copy.