When any book is nominated for the Stoker Award, it automatically has a quality that others won’t. Spellbent by Lucy Snyder is a urban fantasy about a novice witch, Jessie Shimmer, caught in the middle of a horrible accident that will change not only her, but the world she is a part of. Her boyfriend, Cooper Marron, is pulled into a hellish dimension while they were trying to call rain to end a drought. The damage caused by the rip in dimensions causes a cover-up of supernatural proportions with Jessie now considered a fugitive for things she never knew about or took part in.
For most of the book, the story is a remarkable example of the urban fantasy genre. A secret, organized, magical underworld in Columbus, Ohio with a ass-kicking heroine rebelling against the supernatural status quo to do the right thing. Characters are fully realized and interesting. The world building detailed and well-executed. And the writing is tight and gripping that you have a hard time putting it down.
But why am I talking about it?
Well, for some people who took the old survey, the fact there is a demon centric plot line, that in of itself would make it horror. But as the Urban genre over the last decade has proven: Monsters are not the sole property of the horror genre. But there is a section of the book hat includes the climax of the story that is very horrific. Jessie enters the demonic realm that Cooper is trapped in. In the surreal environment she is met with dangers and terrors that are hard for her to grasp before she has to find safety. Earlier in the story, she is imbued with magical sight in one eye which adds another level of complex terror. In this place, when she changes what kind of sight she uses, the whole reality she is in changes.
On one hand, Jessie is dealing with the unknown. That wonderful cauldron that brews a myriad of fears for a character. The setup of the not different than some of the Dream Cycle stories of Lovecraft or the tales of Lord Dunsany where reality and fantasy no longer have a barrier and the change in the rules of reality keep the character on edge.
On the other, the realm she is in is created around the evils of Cooper’s past that he doesn’t remember. This–much like next week’s The Haunting of Hill House–works on the idea that horror is when barrier of the external world and the internal consciousness is permutable. In this case, in a literal sense. Cooper’s personal hell is that of his memories and the horrors he went through as a child.
Horror is always about going beyond those barriers we set up for ourselves. It is only by going past them, into the unknown and the terrors that lie there, that we can learn to not be fearful, to learn, and to gain knowledge. This is just as true for the climax of Spellbent. There is always a cost, which she finds out through out the book. But the result is always a strength to survive until that next barrier has to come down.
Horror Reader Level: Beginner