Victoria [What Hides Within #2]: Jason Parent
Reviewed By Brian Bogart
(BB: Victoria is a stand-alone novel set in the same universe as the previous novel, What Hides Within, but can act as a full, stand-alone novel on its own. I will be reading the first novel in this fictional universe to compare the two in the future.)
Oh, Victoria, you stubborn little twat, even when you deny me, you play right into my hand.
Well, if I had hands.
Yep. Most people don’t like them. Some, even at the bare mention of one, try to climb the walls in the opposite direction like they were born with eight legs themselves. Me? I fall somewhere in-between- as long as I can tell what type of spider I’m dealing with… I just kind of cautiously watch with morbid fascination and then ignore.
Until one falls on me, according to my wife. I must have blocked that particular memory. The old editor upstairs must have made some editorial changes unbeknownst to this author, in regards to that story. Limited edition, first-run prints only.
Poor Victoria doesn’t have that option: she has one that has nested in her head. A talkative female arachnid creature by the name of Chester- with plans for her ancient species to rule the world.
First stop? The Vatican….
You see, a secret organization has been tracking Chester and her ilk. Eradicating their kind is of the utmost importance. They have stopped many… only a few remain. Can the secret agents halt Chester and the others before it’s too late? Will teenage Victoria be able to handle puberty and the malicious mastermind threatening to inject his venom into the core of her brain if she doesn’t cooperate? Can a wacky idea such as all this keep me turning pages, despite my first impressions in the beginning?
“Yes, Victoria. All lies. You, your kind—all meaningless to me. You are the insects crawling around this world with delusions of being something more, deserving of an end beneath the true almighty’s swat. I could kill you, cripple you, cause you all sorts of pain, but what would be the point? Instead, I’ll stay right here until you are ready to do my bidding again. My presence will be torture enough.”
The answer is yes.
Although I wasn’t fully on board at the beginning, I did want to see where this would lead. My initial scepticism while reading had more to do with my mindset than the storytelling.
Parent’s writing is clean and energetic, pushing forward with the occasional stop in horror territory: dead bodies, blood and burning flesh. While “Victoria” has these moments, it is closer in its approach and story to a slightly bizarro espionage thriller. With James Bond villain dialogue crooning from an eight-legged freak inside a young girl’s head.
Sometimes you can read something and know that the author was having fun. I got that feeling in multiple spots in this tale. A little humor can go a long way and this pops up from time to time. Almost self-satire at some points. Moments like Chester popping out of Victoria’s ear to attempt to use a laptop. Or nearly mocking most reader’s stray thoughts as they push forward into the next chapter:
“What I’m going to tell you is more than I should and more than most people would believe, but somehow, given your life so far and what was living in your head, I have a feeling you’ll know that I’m telling the truth.” He rubbed his hands together. “So here goes. I’m part of a clandestine body within the Church whose sole purpose is to safeguard humanity against an ancient evil.”
Victoria rolled her eyes and groaned. The saline tube brushed her neck, and she groaned as she swatted it away. “Isn’t that a cliché? A secret society? Really? Like the Illuminati or the Priori of Sion or Opus Dei?”
“I really wish people would stop reading Dan Brown.”
From my understanding, the first book reads like a police procedural. This is styled after the above thrillers, somewhat. If the series continues in this fashion, I wonder if the next one will be a full-blown sci-fi soap opera/adventure. You know: Chester’s species gaining the upper hand, hellbent on using the DNA of their fallen brothers and sisters to build a venomous army to whip the worthless humans into shape. “Reshape. Spin Web. Revolt.”
The spiders are coming. A particular fat one the size of a bus has locked eight blood-red eyes on her. Despite its girth, its steps are silent as it walks right up to her. She doesn’t run, doesn’t even turn away though fear has clogged her throat, cut off her voice. She can smell the thing’s breath now, sizzling hot and rank like gases emanating from a rotting animal. Its drool patters at her feet.
“I’m going to eat you,” the spider’s twinkling eyes say. “I’m going to eat you and suck out all your yummy organs and wallow drunkenly in your blood. Then, even after you’re dead, I will kiss your flesh and render meat from bone, taste all of you until there is nothing left.”
Hey. Crazier things have happened in storytelling, and Parent is a good writer. Given the premise- who knows?
Though it may not be what some horror readers expect, the book “Victoria” flows at a decent clip and spins its web of intrigue in around 200 pages. It’s a bit of an odd tale, but Victoria herself brings a human component that ties it all together. I enjoyed the ride with a somewhat surprising climax, even if I craved just a tad more horror. And some nice book cover art, too.
It is a unique read and one that I can see appealing to adults and perhaps even young adults, as well. Given the premise, horror reader’s mileage may vary. Suspension of disbelief is a must, of course. And your patience with evil mastermind dialogue in written form. Personally, that stuff reminds me of the old thriller books on my uncle’s office.
Funny how I felt a bit of nostalgia from an evil spider crawling around in a girl’s skull. (And typing that last sentence made me smile. Judge me all you want.)
I hope it finds its audience, as it seems the first book has its fans. Despite being light on the horror for some readers- Parent’s writing is pretty damn good. And given what I have read of his more horror-fueled offerings (and the excerpt above):
Chester deserves to render the flesh from some stupid human’s bones, at least once. In exquisite detail, please.
Victoria Menard has had a hard life. She’s an orphan and a thief… and perhaps even a murderer. Worst of all, her only friend is a talking spider named Chester that lives in her head.
For the last eight years, Victoria and Chester have traveled the world, seeing the sights, learning half a dozen languages, and terrorizing communities indiscriminately. Now sixteen, Victoria wants her independence. But the parasite inside her won’t let her go.
Chester has big plans, but Victoria’s brain may no longer be big enough for the both of them. How can a girl rid herself of an unwanted guest when that guest refuses to leave?
Victoria is a stand-alone novel set in the same universe as the novel, What Hides Within.
Brian Bogart is an American author of dark fiction and horror/fantasy. He has written stories most of his life and has been a fan of the genre since the age of seven. His approach to storytelling is a tad macabre at times but tries to capture the nuances of the humanity and sometimes, inhumanity, beneath the surface. He supports the horror community with bloodied open arms and demonic vigor.
Dream Darkly and Keep Writing.
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