Jeff O’Brien, Queen of Hell (Riot Forge Studios, 2016)
Jeff O’Brien pulls a trunk-novel move: he’s taken one of his earliest works (“Devil Rain”) and done some heavy revise-and-extend to turn it into a 120-ish page novella. And, as usual, for those of you who don’t want to stick around for the thousand-word breakdown, I’ll give you the tl;dr right up front: if you’re a fan of horror-comedy with a decidedly sexy (but surprisingly non-graphic) bent, then Queen of Hell should be right up your alley. It is not without its flaws, but it’s still one hell, pardon the pun, of a good time.
Plot: Byron is the middle-aged, somewhat befuddled owner of Mortal Threads, a small-town goth store that gets just about as much business as you’d expect a small-town goth store to get. As we open, Byron and Morticia, one of his employees, are out at a nightclub doing research when Byron meets the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Of course, it’s lust at first sight, and it seems to be mutual…until the woman disappears. And not just from the club; missing posters go up all over town, so Byron at least finds out her name: Mandy Fisher. It’s not long before she’s invading his dreams, then his waking hours, and he beings to wonder if her disappearance isn’t of the garden variety. It’s not a spoiler–we find out early enough in the novel–that it isn’t; Mandy has been chosen by the demoness Dralamyr for…something. (Okay, that WOULD be getting into spoiler territory.) Meanwhile, the townsfolk search, Byron dreams, and life goes on at Mortal Threads.
First, the good things about it: a pace that starts at “breakneck” and then just speeds up from there, a fine premise, some really fun characters. This is a book that knows how to have fun, and wants to take you along for the ride. Oddly, all of the book’s strengths are also its weaknesses. You’ve heard me say this half a hundred times about books written by authors who are affiliated with the bizarro movement, and I’m sure you’ll keep hearing it: this is a book that could easily have been twice as long as it is. There is a great deal more to explore in many facets of this story. There are also places where we get just enough character development to want a lot more–I could read an entire book about the trials and tribulations that brought Belinda to the sorry state in which we first encounter her here, for example. It’s odd to find a book whose strengths and shortcomings are so intimately intertwined, but there you have it.
It’s a fun little book, worth your time if you like your horror liberally spiced with comedy, and a quick read (it’s oddly taken me at least ten times as long to get round to finishing this review as it did for me to actually read the book). In other words, what have you got to lose? ***