Oxrun Station. A friendly Connecticut community where the Sun is hot, the Moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while the residents pretend to sleep. A town where supernatural evil lurks just out of sight; vampires and werewolves and mummies and… a psychic projection of malice taking the form of a carved bear? Sure, why not. Time to put on our snowshoes and trod through The Bloodwind, by Charles L. Grant.
The Bloodwind is Silent.
It grows from hate and fear and jealousy; rising over Oxrun Station in a miasma of terror and anger. Its target: anyone who dares to speak or act against its master.
To many in Oxrun Station, it is Pat Shavers who controls the boodwind, for it strikes down her enemies. But Pat is terrified of the mysterious destructive force.
The earlier deaths have been accidents – hers will be murder.
Source: back of the book (obligatory Goodreads link)
A dead town. Posing for Currier and Ives, refusing to turn around to reveal the blood in the yards, the corpses in the attics, the ghosts and the demons and the preternatural creatures that stalked the valley no matter what time, no matter the season.
– The Bloodwind, Chapter 9
Oxrun Station, a small Connecticut town which is a nexus of supernatural evil, is the setting for a series of loosely connected horror novels by Charles L. Grant. While The Bloodwind was the fifth book in the series to be published, there is no convoluted continuity to worry about: each book is a stand-alone story with different protagonists, sharing only the setting. Thus, there is nothing to prevent us from using this particular book as our introduction to the series. Not that this book makes a particularly good introduction to the series; it fails to make a positive first impression because, to be frank, it isn’t that good. Its problems are myriad, including pacing, characterization, and general writing style.
The writing style seems oddly circumspect; forever talking around things for no apparent reason save a reluctance to ever get to the point. For instance, the story begins with Pat Shavers concerned about some upcoming event at work that could potentially make or break her career – but it refuses to tell us what that event is, repeatedly commenting how very important it is for Pat without bother to explain what it is. Or, for another example, take the following passage, about the history of the founder of the university where Pat works:
On his deathbed the old man suggested two years double to four, and when he finally died in 1953 no one complained publicly when the school’s name was changed – especially in light of the trust he had established to maintain the facilities independent of the vagaries of economic and enrollment flux.
– The Bloodwind, Chapter 3
This is a passage the apparent purpose of which is to provide us information about the school’s history. Yet, what information does it actually provide? It says that, at one point, the school’s name was changed. What was it changed from? What was it changed to? Not a clue! There’s no particular point to withholding that information, or even for bringing it up in the first place – I probably wouldn’t have noticed that the whole book just referred to Pat’s workplace as “the school” or “the university”, except that this passage made me wonder if there was some significance to the change in name, and then I realized that neither name was ever given. Look, either tell me or don’t tell me; but don’t make a huge production over not telling me when it’s not even important in the first place.
That brings me to the second problem, that of character. Namely, the main character, who is a woman who seems to be forever teetering on the edge of hysteria; perpetually near panic, forever glancing over her shoulder to see if someone’s stalking her, and jumping in fright when the phone rings. Now, that might be perfectly ordinary behavior for someone aware that she’s being stalked by a relentless and implacable force of pure evil; but she’s like that far before anything supernatural happens. Take, for instance, this passage:
She almost panicked. Standing alone in the corridor, listening to Greg chatting with the others as if nothing momentous were about to be discussed, she almost lost her nerve. Her arms folded across her stomach and she hugged herself, anticipating a bout of nausea that did not come, wondering if her face were flushed, her lips trembling, her posture more like a supplicant than one who has courage. It was irrational, this sudden attack, and it came close to shaming her. She had always prided herself on being a woman who had never flinched, who had taken the slings of a man’s world and caught them in her bare hand, flung them back with a smile not of contempt but of competence. And now she was behaving as though the room ahead contained the gas chamber, not a table and chairs and a handful of gossiping colleagues.
– The Bloodwind, Chapter 5
Again, that’s not her preparing to face some unspeakable Lovecraftian horror; this is her just about to have an ordinary meeting with her colleagues at the university, with no idea yet that evil is afoot. “A woman who had never flinched”? We hardly see her do anything but flinch! Telling us otherwise doesn’t make it so. If you want Pat to be a strong female protagonist, then you should actually write her that way.
And the final problem: the pacing. Charles L. Grant has described his style of writing as “quiet horror”; for this book, I would suggest that “quiet” be substituted with “boring”. This is a story in which it takes forever for anything to actually happen. That’s probably supposed to build up an atmosphere of mystery and dread, but instead it just got me thinking about how other horror novels were able to build up their atmospheres of mystery and dread much quicker.
All in all, The Bloodwind is a disappointingly weak outing. But you know what might make this premise better? If Mulder and Scully from The X-Files were in it. But hey, what are the odds of that ever happening?
Final Rating: 2/5