Awakened by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth is a science-fiction, horror story that begins in New York City’s latest underground subway line, which is an express line that connects the city with communities across the Hudson River. On the inauguration celebration of this state-of-the-art transport system, everyone is stunned when the train’s car arrive completely devoid of human life except for the blood that splatters its walls. As chaos spreads like a plague, high levels of methane gas begin to fill the tunnels. The structure then starts to flood. Individuals who aren’t drowned, choked, or blown to bits become survivors to confront a whole different breed of danger, the thing that killed all the folx on the train, and now has its gaze set upon them.
I discovered this series when I saw the cover for the third volume —Obliteration—at a local bookstore, which looked badass, and thus I became intrigued. I’m not entirely sure what I expected, but a thrilling creature-feature type narrative that takes place during the span of a handful hours was definitely not it. While the novel wasn’t horror in the sense of subtle, spine-tingly and insidious malevolence, it was still rather savage and grotesque, and that made it a fun ride all-around (pun intended, mwahaha).
The story opens with the mayor of NYC unveiling his new fancy schmancy underground subway, called the Z-Line. As the train pulls into the station, it’s completely empty with massive amounts of blood slapped across the inside walls. This kicks off quite a an atmosphere of mayhem and paranoia as all of the people that attended this unveiling event lose their senses to mass fear. Immediately, this sets up a strong aura of tension and suspense. One of my fears is the fear of large crowds and being trampled to death, or ochlophobia, so to have the novel start with such a strong and debilitating phobia of mine definitely induced powerful sensations of discomfort and anxiety within me. These are elements that I actually enjoy while reading scary books (even though I loathe them outside of reading), and having such an introduction made me pretty excited to keep my eyes glued to the pages for as long as possible.
The stress of trying to figure out what happened to the passengers, combined with the seemingly never-ending stream of one catastrophe after another, is incredibly gripping. It’s a bit akin to watching a fast-paced suspense film where everything seems to be going wrong, yet the audience is holding out hope for a happy finale. I kept my fingers crossed and teeth grounded with anticipation for the next big event while trying to maintain an air of optimism for the survivors to see the daylight again. This was an awesome feeling because it was literal in a physical sense. My heart raced and breath hitched at the truly gruesome deaths, and my mind utterly tuned out everything else around me. I was transported (pun mildly intended) to the train platform, standing in the midst of the crowd as everyone screamed and panicked for their lives.
The shorter chapters and the shifting alliances, as well as some of the political and conspiratorial morsels that are revealed as the plot unfolds, helped to add little layers of dimension to an otherwise straightforward, monster cat-and-mouse narrative. It also works to set up a foundation for the novel to be a part of a longer series (in this case, it’s a trilogy, I believe). Some folx may desire for everything to be wrapped up neatly in a single volume, however, I’m very curious to see the more worldwide ramifications of these events and how it shall impact international relations moving forward. Let’s just say that there seems to be a lot of sneaky shite that civilians would be royally ticked off about and I’d love to see it explode into more intense pandemonium in that regard. For me, this would add more vigour and ferocity to the overarching plot.
Another facet that I was fairly fond of were the characters. Every single person in the book is morally grey and quite fucked-up in one way or another, or they stem from dark backgrounds. These abundance of imperfections make them more humanistic and sincere, creating something that a plethora of readers can connect to. This is an aspect that helped in my being able to visualise myself standing on the platform as a member of the crazed crowd. It’s escapism in a delightfully disturbing manner.
If there is anything that can be construed as a shortcoming it would be the cheesiness. If you’ve ever seen films like Lake Placid or AVP: Alien vs Predator and other similar creature-feature action films, then you’ll be pretty familiar with this specific brand of wit and occasional corny dialogues, as well as the non-sensical cursing that stems from witnessing unexpected and sudden bouts of body mutilation. I’m a big fan of cheesy creature-features, so for me it added to the rompy yet horrifying adventure of reading this sci-fi terror treat. But, if you’re in the market for something that takes itself far more seriously and is more heftily cerebral in its presentation and makeup, then you’ll have to look elsewhere as it doesn’t exist here, at least not in the first novel. (I can’t speak for the series as a whole as I haven’t finished it yet.) There are some nifty scientific elements to the creatures, and I liked reading about their possible evolutionary processes, but it won’t satisfy fans looking for more hardcore scientific skylarking.
All in all, I would RECOMMEND Awakened to readers that are searching for a good science-fiction horror story that plays on multiple phobias to build a tale that can be as equally terrifying as it is entertaining, and for folx that have a soft spot for dark creature-feature anecdotes, as the writing is fantastically cinematic in that respect. The book gets extremely graphic with its depiction of violence and bloodshed, so queasy bibliophiles please be forewarned. I am looking forward to checking out the second book in the trilogy, The Brink, within the next few weeks.
Publication Date: June 2018
Publisher: Harper Voyager (978-0062687883)
Genre: Science-Fiction, Horror, Thriller
Series: Awakened Book 1
Page Count: 304
Content Warnings: Graphic violence including extreme body mutilation, gun violence, and physical assault. Graphic scenes of blood, gore, torture, and death (including death of a pregnant person). Mass panic and paranoia. Disturbing descriptions of atmosphere that may be triggering for folx prone to claustrophobia, nyctophobia, hemophobia, and ochlophobia. Kidnapping. Mention of infidelity.
GoodReads: Awakened by James S. Murray with Darren Wearmouth