Movie popcorn is a peculiar thing. When the lights go down and the movie starts up, that $7 popcorn tastes goddamn incredible.
But afterwards, when you’re left with all of the unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bag and fingers greasy with synthetic butter substitute, you sort of realize that you just paid way too much money for what amounts to some oversalted cardboard.
That mirrors my experience with Craigh DiLouie’s horror novel Suffer the Children: enjoyable while reading, certainly worth the money, but not likely to leave too much of an impression after.
There are many things to like about Suffer the Children, not least of which is its creative take on vampires. In what is not too much of a spoiler (considering it happens within 50 pages), all of the pre-pubescent children on Earth die suddenly and without too much of an explanation. The children can be reanimated for a brief time if given human blood…and not as transfusions, but as a drink.
Where DiLouie really shines is in his extrapolation of what the world would look like when blood–not oil, not water, not gold–become’s the globe’s most precious finite resource. I loved the realistic details here. For example, healthy people start selling their blood on craigslist for exorbitant prices as parents become more and more desperate to revive their children. Of course, that’s a fairly benign example; DiLouie soon takes this into a much darker place, as the government and military begin to lose control and parents become downright murderous. Having seen how far some parents will go for their children, it honestly felt authentic to me–which made it even scarier.
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 19:14
DiLouie should also be commended for having done his research on the human body. When characters began suffering the effects of too much blood loss, I felt like I was, too. There were several times that I actually needed to stop reading because I felt faint! (If that’s not a selling point for a horror novel, I don’t know what is.) The weakness, the dizziness, the lethargy–it all added a very real dimension to a somewhat-fantastic plot. I appreciated the attempts at a scientific justification for the children’s condition as well.
Where Suffer the Children is perhaps not as strong is in its characterizations. Some of our characters have “cannon fodder” pretty much stamped on their foreheads as soon as you meet them. Others seem to keep the reader at arms’ length with voices that sound too similar. This may just be the result of having so many point-of-view characters in so short a book, but I think it goes deeper than that. Our adult characters don’t feel fully actualized; while they become completely child-driven, there doesn’t seem to be much to them before that, either.
Additionally, some words were overused, all the moreso because the novel is so short. Words like “cowered” and “howled” began to just feel like padding after the fourth or fifth time they appeared. Often, where “whispered” and “growled” and “groaned” were, “said” would have worked just as well.
Despite these issues, Suffer the Children is a delicious, if not especially long-lasting, treat. It kept me reading and entertained, and certainly spooked me! Recommended for fans of horror and those who are looking for a new take on the old vampire myth.
I received Suffer the Children free for review from Permuted Press and Netgalley. Suffer the Children is now available for purchase.
Tarynwanderer Rating: Three out of five stars
Tarynwanderer Tagline: “They were just kids. But kids drank blood these days, and he barely had enough energy to stand.”