Let’s start with a confession. I have not read Feral by Matt Serafini. It’s been on my radar for quite some time, but never quite managed to make top of my TBR pile.
So when the author asked if I’d like to read his latest release, I thought it would be a golden opportunity to determine whether he wrote my kind of horror.
The short answer is: He does. Even if I was not armed with the knowledge existing fans of Serafini would be, since Devil’s Row is a prequel to Feral. And though this may have taken something away from my reading of the former, it did not change the fact that I enjoyed it a great deal.
Set in the early 19th century, the book follows Serafini’s version of a werewolf as she seeks to take revenge on a group of hunters after a frenzied battle atop a cliff sees her left for dead. The hunters form the other main POV of the book as they scramble to escape with an unstoppable force of vengeance hot on their trail. Each of these characters is filled in as the chase unfolds, with the hunters running into other creatures typically at home within the bowels of the earth, hiding from the blaze of the sun. These early chapters also lay out Serafini’s world and the contempt his varcolacs (werewolves) have for the parasites (vampires). There are also other nasty things, secret orders, and amid it all, a bevy of blood and gore.
Perhaps the strongest elements of Devil’s Row are Serafini’s writing and the unexpected turns his narrative takes. In terms of the former, Serafini’s prose is rich and thought-provoking, without being too wordy or dense. He also has no issue with describing the damage wrought to his characters in full detail, with sentences like “His innards rushed to escape the vertical splits (in his armour) and they plopped across the stairs”. With regard to the latter, I was most impressed by some of the plot developments, with Serafini displaying a sure hand in holding back most of them for the last third or so of the novel. To say I was genuinely surprised on more than one occasion – something that happens all too rarely given the amount of horror I read – is intended as high praise.
Of course, there are some elements that did not work quite as well for me. After an intense battle scene – which is almost too much too early as I knew nothing of any of the players and therefore failed to really care – the book settles into a fairly languid pace for it’s next 70 or so pages. Some tighter editing here, in my opinion, would have serviced the book well. And the scenes I would have most happily cut would have been the squabbling between the leader of the hunters and one of his paid employees. One or two of these scenes more than adequately illustrated their dynamic. But by the fourth or fifth, it became largely redundant.
Still, there is much to enjoy about Devil’s Row and I have no hesitation in recommending it to fans of historically based horror or werewolf tales more generally, as it is a savage and blood-drenched read, which, after some early lulls in pacing, proves both surprising and satisfying.
3.5 Monsters Around Every Corner for Devil’s Row.
The preceding was based on an electronic copy of the book provided by the author in exchange for an honest review, which you have now read.