A while back, Matt Spencer sent me a copy of the second edition of his contemporary quasi-urban fantasy novel, The Night and the Land. A review for it can be found here.
Earlier this year, he sent us the next book in the sequence, The Trail of the Beast.
Let me tell you: it’s fantastic.
I think that the best thing Spencer does in his writing is create a mystery story, where the world and its history are the mystery to be solved. The characters we follow all have small pieces of the puzzle [though some are larger than others]: what is the Old World? What is Deschemb? Who, or what, are the Spirelights, Schomites, and Crimbone really?
There is a hidden secondary world, which some characters are in on from the beginning to some degree, while other characters come to learn more about it, themselves, and their relationship to it as the story unfolds. Individuals who only have a small inkling of the true nature of the world and the conflict they are a part of are trying to come to terms with a possible mass-cosmological shift while still discovering the nature of the old cosmology that had been kept hidden.
Okay, it maybe sounds confusing when it’s put that way…
On the surface, there a sort of Hatfield and McCoy blood-feud between two races that originate from an alternate earth. This conflict has spilled onto our world as the races have colonized and either remained hidden or tried to blend in with human society.
It kind of has a ‘werewolves and vampires’ vibe to it, but the superhuman races don’t really line up with either of those, so the results are very uncanny.
Five years have passed since the events of The Night and the Land–Rob and Sally have tried to make their own place where they can hide out from the conflict between the Spirelights and the Schomites. Sally’s little brother Sheldon is stuck dealing with the repercussions of his fight with Rob and the experiments his own people have done on him to try and figure out how Rob’s blades changed him. We also get more of Jesse and Zane, who’d been sort of failed would-be mentors to Rob in the first book, trying to solve the mysteries of what the heck the Schomites did to Sally when she was in New Orleans that kicked off the whole crazy series of events.
A Spirelight bounty hunter manages to abscond with Sally, sending Rob on a spree to look for her, as he goes uniting packs of Crimbone, upsetting the Schomite earth order, and slaughtering Spirelights, bringing the hidden war into the open in a way that neither the Earth nor the Deschembine authorities can ignore or bring to a halt.
Spencer does a fantastic job balancing the tale told from a number of perspectives. It’s an exciting and unpredictable story, both beautiful and savage.
Like The Night and the Land, The Trail of the Beast is an incredibly grisly and graphic tale; it’s definitely not for everyone. In the questionable cosmology, good and evil are not well defined, perhaps largely because the truth about its nature is so hidden–instead, you have a world where gut instinct must be trusted, because that is the only truth that can be counted on. As such, you have very few, if any, characters you can point to as ‘good guys’, though with a few exceptions of the truly perverse villains, all of the characters are somewhat sympathetic, and even relatable, despite often being at odds [at best] or being monsters [at worst].
When I reviewed The Night and the Land, one of the things I mentioned was how, despite everything that happens and despite everything that he did, I found myself almost cheering for Sheldon by the end of the book. Trail of the Beast, in a lot of ways, is Sheldon’s book–here, he is able to fight for redemption and really earn some of that sympathy. Rob becomes less of a character and more a force of nature that the other characters must survive in spite of.
I would’ve liked to see more of Puttergong… He’s around, and still an important mover, but we don’t really get anything from his perspective in this book. I mostly bring that up because, despite my normal tastes and the fact that it shouldn’t work at all, Matt Spencer actually wrote Puttergong’s perspective sections in a 1st person present tense [the rest is all 3rd person past] and he made it work! So, I actually kind of missed those bits.
Anyway, I mentioned that a big part of what makes Spencer’s world so fascinating is the mystery behind the hidden secondary world. We’re incredibly thrilled that one of the short stories that will help shed some light on the mysteries of Spirelights’ and Schomites’ past will be featured in our Fall issue! Be sure to stay tuned for details on how you can get your hands on it.
Until then, be sure to grab a copy of the Summer issue, out the first week of August!