REVIEW: BLOOD KIN / AUTHOR: STEVE RASNIC TEM / PUBLISHER: SOLARIS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Michael Gibson has returned to his Virginia home and now looks after his elderly grandmother, Sadie. Weak as she is, Sadie has a story she must tell her grandson; a recounting of her life in the 1930s, a tale of ghosts, empathic powers, and a sinister snake-handling uncle. As Sadie’s story is told, Michael feels himself drawn in by her words, and begins to understand how her past is important to his future.
Like Michael, anyone reading Blood Kin will also find themselves fascinated with Sadie’s story. Hers is a world of the Southern Gothic, where everyone in the small town nestled in a valley knows each other – chances are, they’re all related in some way. Being a young girl about to enter adolescence, Sadie attracts unwanted attention from various men (including her own father), but it’s her uncle, the preacher, who is the greatest terror. He seems more demon than Man of God, surrounded in an aura that demands fear and respect from all; he can also sense Sadie’s burgeoning powers, and appears to want them for his own foul purposes.
Steve Rasnic Tem’s writing is sublime. The Southern-style dialogue and narration border on the lyrical, and it’s worth reading some passages out loud just to roll the tongue around the words. An atmosphere of unease permeates Sadie’s history, brilliantly evoking the fear and worry of her everyday existence; the threat of violence is extremely unsettling, filling even the most mundane encounters with suspense.
The first half of the book creates the atmosphere and builds the tension slowly but surely, also introducing us to a potential threat in the present. Just what is it that lurks in an iron-bound crate buried deep under Kudzu vine, and why is that vine now growing at an impossible rate, threatening to engulf everything? We find out, of course, but it’s layered very gradually until the final third of the book, which will have the reader turning pages until the very end. Based on what has gone before, the finale feels like it’s over too quickly, but we’re ultimately left with the satisfaction of having read a well-written and gripping novel.