ARC Review: THE BLADE BETWEEN by Sam J. Miller (2020)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: December 2020
Source: NetGalley
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an ARC via NetGalley
Trigger warnings: Arson, stabbing, suicide, eviction, drug addiction, sexual assault (implied)

The city of Hudson, New York is rich in a history that’s about to be erased by the gears of gentrification and corporate interests. The community fights back, but it isn’t until the whale gods and ghosts of Hudson’s past join the fray, feasting on hate and unleashing violence upon this already-tense community.

It’d be ridiculous to say that every new Sam J. Miller book is my new favorite Sam J. Miller book because they all hit the same highs for me as a reader in their own unique ways.

But holy heck, did I enjoy this one.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off the unfolding horrors and thoughtfully-crafted exploration of gentrification, drug addiction, surviving homophobia, lost love, sordid history, ghosts, and community organizing blended so seamlessly. The precise language that’s consistent throughout all his works is present here, and there is no stone left unturned.

I found Ronan’s arc so painfully compelling. He skipped town to pursue a photography career in New York and decided years later to return to a place that’s foreign to him. In terms of trying to save his father’s butcher shop, which feels like the last vestige of Hudson before the corporate invasion, he makes such an attempt. And then forces beyond his control imprint on that attempt, which involves catfishing on Grindr (an element I enjoyed far too much).

I could not keep myself together as the terror unfolded. There’s more pedestrian terror of him trying to mentor a gay high schooler who isn’t out to his pastor mom, and then the supernatural horror of an entity he accidentally summons. You simply can’t look away from how badly and unintentionally this man fucks up. It all goes about as well as you’d expect, but I found the ending particularly cathartic.

His relationship with Dom, Attalah, and Dom and Attalah hurt in the ways of “what could have been” and “none of us are really the people we were in high school, except we sort of are.” The way their love is both tough and tender depending on the scene, and sometimes in the same moment. The complexity here is such a thing to behold because it felt so realistic. What I found most interesting is that, with the exception of a few, none of the characters fell strictly into a camp of “good” or “bad.” They’re all trying to survive in the best and only ways they know how.

An absolute treat for those who loved Hex and want something a little more thoughtful with a specific perspective on how gentrification is wreaking a terror we know on small town communities with a layer of supernatural fear which makes it all viscerally unsettling.

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