I found Ania Ahlborn’s blog when I was first considering indie publishing my novel. I found her writing style to be engaging and straight-forward and found her ‘How to Publish Your e-Book’ series to be informative. In addition, she’s also super helpful if you contact her directly. I was at a loss to find an editor, and wrote Ania. She responded with encouragement and a recommendation for Nick Ambrose of Everything Indie. It doesn’t hurt that Ania is a cutie-patootie and able to bake up a veritable storm of seasonal goodies. All things considered, I couldn’t wait to read her debut novel, SEED. I was not disappointed. In fact, I came away with an even higher opinion of Ania and a sincere excitement to read more of what she’s going to write!
Without further ado, here are my thoughts on SEED:
“The Saturn’s engine rattled like a penny in an old tin can.”
That is the opening line of Ania Ahlborn’s novel, Seed, a story about demonic possession. It is no coincidence that the plot starts with a description of a car; escape, or lack thereof, is a central theme for Jack, the protagonist. How do you escape what you are? In Ahlborn’s Seed, the answer is simple. You don’t.
Jack makes a living “patching up flat-bottomed swamp boats.” He’s a member of Lamb, a small town band that “never missed a gig.” He is father of two daughters and husband to a woman from a different – and higher – socioeconomic strata. Jack seems like just about every guy you’ve ever met who’s happily married, but still holding onto the freedom of his artistic pursuits. Jack’s different, though. He’s hiding a series of secrets, any one of which could destroy his family.
With Jack Winter, Ahlborn has done something brave. She has written a character that is hard, if not impossible, to like. Jack repeatedly avoids doing anything to help his daughter, Charlie. His first responses to the escalating situation are dismissive: “She’s got the flu or something” and, after the doctor finds nothing wrong, “isn’t it better she isn’t sick?” This from a man who knows exactly what is wrong with his daughter. He intentionally misleads his wife about the situation, making it “his mission to find the shoddiest psychiatrist” so that his wife could “believe that Charlie was a schizophrenic.” Jack is more concerned about concealing his own past than helping his child – or so it seems.
Ahlborn alludes that there could be a more complex answer. For example, at one point Jack is “terrified by his bitter epiphany” that “[h]e was going to lose his daughter and he couldn’t do anything to stop it.” Jack isn’t sure there is a God, and posits that, “[f]or all he knew, wickedness was strong enough to exist in a world without good.” If Jack is possessed or seriously damaged by the demon Charlie dubs ‘Mr. Scratch’, then Ahlborn bravely penned a character who is true to his situation, namely, a person infested with evil and, by implication, hard to feel empathetic towards. Jack reminds me of Cass Neary in Elizabeth Hand’s novel Generation Loss. Neither Cass nor Jack is someone I would want on my side in the apocalypse. Are both Cass and Jack excellent examples of non-standard and intriguing characters you can’t wait to see what they do next? Absolutely.
SEED is not strictly linear. There are significant portions of the story that take place during Jack’s childhood. While this could have been clunky or disruptive in the hands of a lesser writer, Ahlborn handles the transitions between the different timelines with aplomb. There is tremendous emotional payoff for the reader when past and present collide and Jack is able to finally piece together the full story of his past and how it relates to what is happening to his family.
My only real complaint about SEED is that the characters of Jack’s wife and oldest daughter are less participants in the action than they are stage props for Charlie and Jack to manipulate. The wife shows glimmers of individuality, and some of the scariest scenes happen in her presence, but she never gets a chance to take any risks or grow as a character. The older daughter has even less of a pivotal role, and except for the shock value and eerie symmetry with the Jack’s childhood cat incident, this character seems nearly extraneous.
It is likely you won’t notice that particular weakness as you are reading, though. Ahlborn does a fantastic job on delivering the scary. The poltergeist/popcorn scene and the thing moving under the covers scene are both well executed and creepy. The incident with the dog is horrifying. Ahlborn does not flinch when it comes to the emotional gore that is horror at its best.
Ahlborn’s storytelling demonstrates an understanding that horror should not be explained away fully, and that to over analyze would kill the mood, ruin the nightmarish effect, and diminish the purpose of writing something scary. For example, it is never revealed who the large bearded man at the gas station is, nor the nature of his relationship to the demon. Likewise, Ahlborn never reveals how the demon chose Jack or the mechanism by which the possession transfers to Charlie. The one question I hope there will be a resounding and affirmative answer to is: Will there be a sequel?
Have you supported indie horror today? No? Pick up SEED on Amazon!