The Night Silver River Run Red: Christine Morgan
Reviewed By Ben Walker
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews for Death’s Head Press’ splatter western series, then you already know I’m going to gush over that cover, but I’m going to double-gush over that perfect title. You can imagine a hunched figure slurring out the words at the dark end of a bar, compelling you to sidle up close and listen to their story. Suffice to say, my hopes were high for Christine Morgan’s entry into the weird world of Westerns, and not just because I’ve enjoyed her short fiction before.
Rich with playful humour and perfect mood-setting details, Morgan’s writing quickly draws you close to a bunch of precocious kids, sneaking off at night to catch a glimpse of a travelling freak show. Their friendships are believable, packed with knowing details and a touch of nostalgia, kind of like a Western Stand By Me with a touch of Ray Bradbury. I’d have been happy enough reading about these kids getting into scrapes and telling each other about their lives, never mind all the nasty stuff which comes afterwards. There’s a lot of kids being kids to begin with, a little horror sneaking in around the edges, and it’s immensely fun stuff, even if the kids tend to get distracted by their memories a little sometimes.
Then the true horror kicks in, and it comes at you fast, slapping gore all over the place like a Savini test lab. Oh yes, there’s splatter in them thar hills, with all the build-up from the first quarter paying off nicely (and not-so-nicely). From there, the story seems to be headed into Attack the Block territory, with the kids rallying against a half-seen threat. It’s packed with raucous action, pulse-troubling chase scenes, sudden moments of devastating loss, and parts which had me cheering on the kids as they give as good as they get. It’s action horror, essentially, with any supernatural elements becoming less pronounced than others.
Then a sick bastard named Horsecock enters the fray, and the whole mood of the novel changes. The close-knit structure of the first third is cast aside in favour of a scattergun approach that encompasses the whole town of Silver River. This second part has something of a home invasion feel, mixed with a hard-edged Western, and it’s easy to get swept up to the point where the group of kids are almost forgotten. There are some grim and gory scenes that go far harder than what came before, and if you’ve got issues with very small children coming to harm then one section in particular will be hard to get through.
The final third then smashes both of the preceding situations together in a way that leads you back to the promise of the book’s title. Not that there’s been a lack of blood beforehand, but the climactic stretch throws in plenty of red, death and redemption, alongside more meaty chunks than a dog food factory’s midweek delivery.
All in all, this cuts a very different path from the first three books in the series, which makes it a compellingly entertaining stand-out. Less reliant on Western tropes, it’s still incredibly successful at presenting an authentic-feeling setting, with a little bit of magic and no small amount of mayhem. Highly recommended.
The Night Silver River Run Red
Some things, according to Cody McCall, are worth risking a whipping. Such as, sneaking out with your friends after dark for a peek at the traveling show setting up just outside of town. Oddities, the signs promise. Marvels. Grotesqueries. Exotic attractions and mysterious magics.
Not as if they’d be allowed to attend otherwise, not with parents and preacher and schoolmarm all disapproving. But how often does a chance like this come along? There isn’t much else by way of excitement in quiet, peaceful Silver River, a once-prosperous boom town slowly gone bust.
Worth risking a whipping, sure. Worth risking life and limb, and maybe more? Worth risking being ripped to pieces by ravenous, inhuman brutes? Worth crossing paths with those strange, silent cult-folk from the high valley? Worth all the fire and bloodshed and horror and death?
Because something far worse than any ordinary traveling show has come to town, and one thing is for certain: those who survive, if any, will never forget the night Silver River run red.
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.