Those Who Came Before – J.H. Moncrieff
Reviewed by Steve Stred
“This land is your land, This land is my land,
This land was made for you and me.”
Throughout this read, these two lines and most of the ‘This Land is Your Land,’ song played throughout my head. Originally written by Woody Guthrie, this was a rebuttal at the time to the frequent playing/airing of ‘God Bless America.’
Whether J.H. Moncrieff had this tune in the back of her mind while writing this story isn’t known, but the lyrics (and in my case the modified Canadian lyrics I grew up hearing) were synonymous with what played out.
Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of ‘Those Who Came Before,’ shall we?
Reece, his girlfriend Jess as well as her friend Kira and boyfriend Dan, head to Strong Lake to go camping during the long weekend. Unfortunately the campground is closed, but that doesn’t stop them. They bust in, find a site and decide to have some fun. A discovery of an odd tree begins a horrific story and a sprint through Native American lore. Then after the other three go to bed, Reece hears a voice, so close you’d think it was directly behind him; “You’re not welcome here.”
J.H. Moncrieff has returned with a stunning, new tale of supernatural horror wrapped in a small town’s history of bigotry and racism.
“As I went walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway;
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.”
I became a huge fan of J.H.’s previous work, loving ‘Return to Dyatlov Pass,’ ‘The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave,’ and most recently ‘Monsters In Our Wake.’ J.H. creates startling tales filled with characters that feel real. I love how much depth she gives even to the smallest of characters and in this story that character building shines. Sometimes to the detriment of the reader. In this case, I really couldn’t stand Reece at the beginning. He comes off as uncaring towards his girlfriend and simply staying with her because they have great sex. Same with Detective Greyeyes husband, Ben. Couldn’t stand the character. I didn’t like how flippant he felt towards their marriage or towards Greyeyes job. If you’ve married a professional athlete, you know what to expect. Same with a police officer or detective. I’d like to believe Moncrieff made those two like this purposefully, but as it played out they did their jobs effectively.
“I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps,
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
While all around me a voice was sounding,
Saying this land was made for you and me.”
The real gem of this story is the Native American folklore that this story is based on. The forgotten tribe and the story behind them was fantastic. I enjoyed learning more and more about Little Dove, Lone Wolf and then Little Bear. As we found out more about what became of them as well as the connection to the modern day portion of the story, it was really well done. The present day Chief, Kinew was a great character and Moncrieff used his storyline to the absolute limit, pushing how he interacted with Maria and then with Reece to the max and it created a great push and pull dynamic.
By adding in the arrowhead and the visions associated with it, it was a fantastic way to connect the two time lines.
Moncrieff also does a great job working in historical facts. One of the most hideous things that has come to light over the course of indigenous history is the introduction of small pox through infected blankest given as gifts. This is a book that will make you do some research after you are done reading. For me it was done before and during, due to a book release on my end, but also wanting to do some due diligence of my own. One of the most shocking statistics I found, which J.H. herself relays in the afterword, is that the last residential school in Canada closed in 1996. I always thought this was something that only occurred back in the 60’s and 70’s. How wrong was I?
“The sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling;
As the fog was lifting, a voice was chanting,
This land was made for you and me.”
Of course, no Native American tale like this wouldn’t be complete without the usage of a demon from their tales, and in this case the Wendigo is paramount. There was a reason for Reece going through a transformation throughout this story and with it the use of the Wendigo was a great way to create a monster that is able to move through the forests at will, but also can think and react as a human does.
Recently, when watching the movie The Ritual, based on Adam Nevill’s book (which I still have to read) the ‘monster’ character that was featured was outstanding. Moncrieff, with the description used to introduce us to the Wendigo has created a creature to rival Nevill’s. I would absolutely love to see this story be told on the big screen.
At the end of all of this, the climax and the epilogue were outstanding ways to tie it all together. Moncrieff absolutely delivers on the bigotry narrative, the interpersonal dynamics that occur between Native people working a ‘Caucasian’ job who have to then interact with Native’s. Reece’s parents were done well as were a few others, who I won’t describe to avoid spoilers. But from page one to THE END this book delivers time and time again.
Moncrieff continues to elevate her writing game and I hope this book takes everything to the next deserved level. She dedicates this book to Tina Fontaine and the book unravels from there. I’ve included a few links at the end here if you’re interested in reading a bit more on a few things alluded too throughout. At the end of the day, we need to do more and we need to be better.
While Moncrieff has already released a number of outstanding works (I still need to read The Ghost Writer series) this is her masterpiece. In this case though, I have no doubt Moncrieff will continue to churn out stunning releases. She’ one of the BEST authors out there.
Star Rating (out of 5): 5*
Those Who Came Before
Steve Stred is an up-and-coming Dark, Bleak Horror author.
Steve is the author of the novel Invisible, the novellas Wagon Buddy, Yuri and Jane: the 816 Chronicles and two collections of short stories; Frostbitten: 12 Hymns of Misery and Left Hand Path: 13 More Tales of Black Magick, the dark poetry collection Dim the Sun and his most recent release was the coming-of-age, urban legend tale The Girl Who Hid in the Trees.
On June 1st, 2019 his second full-length novel, The Stranger will be welcomed to the world.
Steve is also a voracious reader, reviewing everything he reads and submitting the majority of his reviews to be featured on Kendall Reviews.
Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog OJ.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official website here
Ahhh… nothing like the annual summer family camping trip, right?
Malcolm, his wife Sam and their two kids have been staying at the same cabin, at the same campground for years now. Heck, Malcolm’s been coming to the campground since he was a kid.
Miles and miles of groomed trails, hiking, kayaking on the pristine lake. What’s not to like?
But this year… well this year’s different. You see, roof repairs have caused them to have to change their plans. Now they’re staying at the cabin at the end of season, in fact they’re the last campers before it closes for the winter.
While happy to be spending time with the family, Malcolm feels a shift.
The caretaker next door makes it known he hates him.
The trees… move and dance, as though calling him, beckoning him.
Then on a seemingly normal kayaking trip, the family makes a discovery.
YOU TAKE FROM ME
I TAKE FROM YOU
Something’s out there, just on the other side of the fence. Malcolm’s positive it’s just the caretaker trying to scare him, teach the family a lesson.
But what if it’s not…
What if there is something out there?
The Stranger is the second novel from Steve Stred and 9th release overall. The Stranger is another offering following in the footsteps of similar books Invisible, YURI and The Girl Who Hid in the Trees. As Steve describes his works; “dark, bleak horror.”
With this release, Steve has decided to look deeper into what makes humans tick. He confronts two key elements of mankind; bigotry and our environmental footprint.
Featuring stunning cover art by Chadwick St. John (www.inkshadows.com), The Stranger will be a story that will leave you feeling uneasy and have you looking at the trees differently.
Maybe it’s not the wind making the branches sway…