Book Of Eli screenwriter Gary Whitta makes the jump from big-screen storytelling to the printed page with his debut novel Abomination, a mix of historical fiction, fantasy, and horror set in the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire, a period that saw a significant drop in written recordings of events. It’s that gap in history that lends itself to much speculation, which Whitta takes full advantage of in his story, claiming that those who witnessed its inconceivable horrors, purposely concealed the truth from future generations.
Whitta’s tale begins in 888 A.D. and uses the real-life background of King Alfred of England for its set-up. Alfred had spent his reign defending his kingdom of Wessex from the marauding Norse barbarians from across the sea, and it was his success in brokering peace with the Vikings that earned the young ruler his moniker of King Alfred the Great. But now, the Danish King Guthrum is rumored to be ill, and his death would likely trigger the end of the truce. Although eager for continued peace, Alfred must ready himself once more for war, but this time around, Aethelred, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has a secret weapon for his King to use against his foes. Unfortunately, Alfred soon finds out that this weapon does not come without dire repercussions.
The start of Abomination reads as historical fiction, offering details of Alfred’s succession, reign, and subsequent struggles against the invading Norsemen. The immediate introduction of Aethelred and his experiments of the most unnatural kind provides a sinister backdrop for the story, the first 100 pages of which feel more like a prologue. While Aethelred is the head of the Christian church in England, he’s not averse to using black magick as a means to the end — in this case, helping Alfred win the war against the Norse. But, when Alfred is appalled by Aethelred’s new “soldiers” — the Abominations — the archbishop has no problem turning his lethal weapons against his King and country.
The book ventures into horror territory with graphic descriptions of animals, and eventually humans, being agonizingly metamorphosized into blood-thirsty killing machines to serve Aethelred’s vengeful purposes. But there’s also a large, looming fantasy element, with characters trained in hand-to-hand combat and swordplay; then there’s the aforementioned use of black magick, as well as practical magic, both of which come into play more often than expected. There’s a religious and spiritual aspect that was surprisingly not preachy.
Because Whitta is a gifted screenwriter, the novel is quick-paced throughout, and just descriptive enough for the reader to picture all the events unfolding as if it was a movie or television episode, but it does so without seeming like a screenplay. After the first 100 or so pages, the story takes a turn, choosing to stay on Wulfric, a knight who is King Alfred’s best friend and most trusted confidant. Wulfric is forever the pacifist, and would like nothing more than to spend his days living modestly as a family man tending to his farm. But, when duty calls, he must leave his life behind once more to serve his king in battle, especially since he’s actually a naturally gifted fighter, although he sees it more as a curse.
Wulfric is a truly likable character. No matter what he does or what situations he comes up against, the reader will root for him. He’s Ned Stark, Aragon, Larry Talbot, Rick Grimes, and Sir Lancelot (minus the latter’s love entanglements) all wrapped up into one. The humbled knight, who later finds himself in an unfathomable situation with no resolution in sight, eventually meets a fierce warrior of the most unusual kind — a young girl all alone on a quest of her own. With two swords strapped across her back and a loyal companion of her own, the Christian-faith-devotee Indra has a hunger to rid the world of these demonic abominations, but there’s a compassionate side to her that makes her more than just a girl on a mission.
I went into Abomination blind, knowing only that it was historical fiction/fantasy, of which I am a great fan, and that it was written by Gary Whitta, of whom I am also a great fan. Since I’ve read a lot from both genres, I wanted to go into this one fresh, like back when I was a kid and I’d often jump into a book based solely on the reputation of the author, or a friend’s recommendation. And I was not disappointed. It’s got a lot of elements often found in fantasy novels – swords, sorcery, an affable hero, a feisty neophyte, an evil wizard, and of course, pesky ruffians along the road and in taverns. The fantasy genre has recently seen a spike in readership thanks to the popularity of HBO’s Game Of Thrones television series, which opened the door to mainstream audiences. But, those TV audiences likely aren’t ready for the 1,200-page tomes from masters like Robert Jordan and Melanie Rawn, whose books come complete with glossary and pronunciation guides. With Abomination, Whitta offers up a well-written, concise, quick-moving Dark Ages historical-fantasy tale of honor, redemption, and fortitude laced with horror elements that’s perfect for today’s audiences.
How it begins…
After the fall of the Roman Empire, chaos and bloodshed swept across the remains of western civilization like a plague. Consumed by feudal warfare, Europe plunged into a centuries-long era of illiteracy and cultural desolation from which few historical records survived.
Some believe that the true history of this dark age was deliberately concealed by its surviving scholars. Too incredible to be believed, too terrible to be retold.