In his afterword of the limited edition hardcover version of Cruelty, author Edward Lorn describes the preceding 684 pages as a "fever dream disguised as a novel".
Rarely have I agreed so whole-heartedly with an author's view of their work.
Originally conceived and released as a ten episode serial novel, Cruelty tells the story of a massive creature with a porcelain doll mask that goes around a town ... No, that's not quite right. It tells the story of a creature that takes the shape of people from character's pasts that then sucks the regret right out of the- Hmm. No that's it either. Let's try this. Cruelty involves the gathering of several supernatural forces within a small town, and depicts the town's residents getting caught in the crossfire of these forces battling it out. ..
You know, even that does not do the novel justice.
The simple fact of the matter is Cruelty both thrilled and confused the shit out of me. There were moments when it was a fantastic blend of suspense, violence and memorable characters; but just as plentiful were the moments when I sat back scratching my head, having no idea what was going on. Now, this may just be because I'm not the brightest of light bulbs, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that (while I've read most of Lorn's short stories and novellas) I have not read his previous novels, most notably Dastardly Bastard and Bay's End. Because it seemed as if this novel frequently alluded to or even straight out referenced events from those novels, so most of the time I was trying to join figurative dots with an equally figurative blindfold in place.
There are a bevy of colourful characters at play here, and Lorn gives most of them distinctive voices. He then proceeds to tear them (sometimes literally) limb from limb with a maniacal glee that I could not help but adore. It also helped recognising several of the people I've gotten to know through Goodreads and Booklikes appearing as minor characters within the book's pages. Lorn also writes wonderfully, interspersing flowing prose with eye-catching turns of phrase and witty observations.
So as much as I have very little idea what actually happened in Cruelty - at least through the final three or four episodes when Lorn goes back to fill in the back stories of some key characters - I do know that I liked what I read. And that the limited edition hardcover is a gorgeous book which will sit proudly in my slowly growing collection of such items.
3.5 Forgivable Cruel Regrets for Cruelty.