A review, a giveaway, and a special excerpt!
Today, I’m taking part in a blog tour for the launch of Parasite by fabulous new horror author, Ridley Harker. As part of the launch celebrations Ridley is giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card: keep reading to find out how to enter!
I had the pleasure of receiving a review copy of this book and I am so thrilled to introduce it to you. Parasite is a horror-romance novel – and if that sounds like a difficult combo to nail, you’d be right. So understand the full weight of my enthusiasm when I say that this book nails it.
Jack Ives, a trans teenager with a very troubled home life, finds his world changed for both better and worse with the arrival of Lucien, a charming, yet off-putting stranger to his island. I was fully invested in the characters and the romance itself, while also remaining gloriously uneasy about the sinister aspects lurking in the shadows around them. Jack made for an interesting and complex main character, while Lucien’s behavioural quirks had me paying close attention every time he was on the page. (One of my favourite scenes is the two boys discussing what scares them, and Lucien answers, clipped and blunt: “Vivisection.”)
All the secondary characters also felt well-rounded, and I enjoyed seeing multiple character arcs develop: Mitch became a quick sympathetic favourite, while I am still intrigued by the emotional complexity to Spencer that I absolutely wasn’t expecting to be smacked in the face with near the end. (Not that the author does any smacking here – everything is subtly implied through small words and actions that kept me hooked, looking for more.)
Harker is brilliant at layering subtle clues through the story, and the true nature of the central horror is revealed in deliciously small doses during the first half of the book, building into a thrilling climax that lasts most of the second half, with all gory secrets revealed. A note on gore, for the squeamish: while there is some body-horror and plenty of blood in this book, I personally didn’t find it too extreme or gratuitous, and always perfectly fit the mood and character motives at the time.
As for setting, Eldrick Isle is a character all by itself. The entire story takes place on this remote and gloomy island, and that sense of gloom pervades Harker’s writing perfectly. Jack feels trapped there, and with such a small, close-knit and close-minded community, it’s not hard to find everyday horror in the situation Jack finds himself in even before Lucien arrives. By the end of the book, this characterisation of the island as a prison takes on a whole new meaning, and the murky grey atmosphere is a perfect reflection of the shades-of-grey morality within the overarching narrative. (SO many questions raised here about consent, conscience, control, and morale judgement.) True to this, romance lovers can expect a morally grey happy ending – rest assured that the story does not finish on a tragic note.
If I have one complaint, it’s that I wish there were just a couple more pages at the end to dwell on the fate of Eldrick Isle, and particularly the state of Jack’s relationships with the people there. However, the story is still wrapped up very well, and is tantalisingly full of opportunity for a sequel. So, Ridley Harker, if you’re reading this . . . I am desperately hoping for a sequel. 😉
Seventeen-year-old Jack Ives is used to being unlucky. His only friend has just moved away to college, his parents are alcoholics, and he’s relentlessly bullied by the town psychopath. All that begins to change with the arrival of a handsome but quirky new student, Lucien, who wants to be more than friends.
Their newfound happiness doesn’t last, however, as a strange new illness strikes the island. Fishermen go missing, and the villagers left behind aren’t themselves anymore. When Lucien is suspected to be the cause of the outbreak, can Jack overcome his teenage hormones and save Eldrick Isle? Will he even want to?
Warnings: Abuse, alcoholism, animal death, bullying, graphic violence/gore, guns, homophobia, misgendering
Ridley is giving away a $20 Amazon gift card with this tour. To enter, just click on this Rafflecopter link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d47259/
Keep reading for a special excerpt from the book. 👇
Lucien wanted to hit something. He wanted to lash out and make himself feel better by making someone else feel worse—Spencer, preferably, but Lucien was too upset even to fantasize. Something scuttled under the floorboards beneath him. Tiny claws on warped wood. A nearby hole in the floorboards… Vermin would have to do.
He brought his index finger to his mouth and bit down, worrying at the skin with his teeth until it broke. He tasted blood. The takeout bag sat beside him so he picked up a fry and, after seasoning it with blood, tossed it toward the hole. And then he waited.
A whiskered nose appeared first, followed by a furry brown face and black, beady eyes. A rat. The animal snatched the fry and disappeared back into the darkness. Lucien smirked and licked his finger clean. He absently probed the torn skin with his tongue until it was smooth again. Then he paused, momentarily forgetting about the rat. Something on his fingers tasted off.
Some sort of grease.
He glanced dubiously down at the soggy french fries, holding his breath and waiting for disaster to strike. Nothing happened. His stomach rumbled. He licked his lips again. The scent of greasy, fried potatoes became too tantalizing to resist, and he reached into the bag and pulled out a fat, golden fry. He shouldn’t—years of lectures told him he shouldn’t—but a rebellion brewed deep inside him. He sniffed, and his stomach gurgled in approval.
Lucien popped the french fry into his mouth. It was cold. The texture was strange: crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. He had to chew before he could swallow. Grease coated his tongue.
His nutrient shakes were garbage.
Lucien scarfed down the entire bag of fries and then licked his fingers clean. Jack had left his milkshake behind, and Lucien drank that as well. The shake had a familiar texture, but the flavors… What would hamburgers taste like? He was going to find out.
An ear-piercing squeal erupted from beneath the floorboards. Lucien smirked into his straw and waited, listening. Judging from the sounds, more than one creature had taken his bait. The rat dragged itself out from the crevice. Little clawed toes curled in on themselves, and beady black eyes bulged out from their sockets. The bald tail became discolored, patchy and waxen. It flopped onto its side, its chest heaving madly as it labored to breathe. A black substance leaked out from its jaws, followed by a tiny, purpled tongue. It shuddered violently, and then it lay still.
Lucien didn’t notice. The paper cup crumpled in his grasp, and the remains of the strawberry shake dripped down his wrist. Behind his dry, irritating contact lenses, his pupils dilated. Lucien clutched at his belly, smearing milkshake across Jack’s borrowed shirt. It was like having shards of glass in his stomach, stabbing into his intestines. Ripping. Tearing. Sweat soaked his skin. He staggered to his feet and gagged. Waves of nausea threatened to bring him to his knees. His throat burned, and his stomach lurched.
He was going to be sick. Sick in the middle of Jack’s private sanctuary. Lucien clamped a hand over his mouth and stumbled toward the guest room. The door’s hinges screamed in protest when he fell against it. He landed heavily on his knees. The floorboards were wet and slimy, blackened with rot. They sloped toward the center of the room, where he saw the stony lip of the well peeking out from amidst the wreckage. The house was strange, but he had no time to explore, not when his stomach lining was burning its way up his esophagus.
Lucien dug his fingers into the moldering floorboards and dragged himself forward. Up close, the well stank. The putrid fumes of fetid water rising up to meet him suggested something had fallen in recently. Lucien leaned over the well’s side and vomited. The remains of french fries and strawberry milkshake hit the water below with a liquid slap. Strings of shredded tissue and dark, brackish blood soon followed.
Unbidden tears streamed down Lucien’s cheeks. He choked on a sob and then choked again as something elseslithered its way up his throat. The edge of the rotten boards gave beneath his clenched fingers, turning to splintery pulp. He tried to clamp a hand over his mouth, tried to keep it inside, but it was too late. Lucien curled in on himself, his mouth opened wide in a silent scream. His eyes rolled back behind his lids, and the world went dark.
It splattered onto the floor. It resembled a fattened leach, pulsating and slimy, and was the size of a large rat. It wriggled about, leaving behind a trail of black sludge. An alien kudzu sprung from the mess and cemented itself to the floor. Lucien opened his eyes, watching as the thing squirmed away from him. He felt a muted sense of alarm as it neared the edge. His head was foggy. He should grab it. Before it was too late, if it wasn’t too late already.
His fingertips scrabbled against the wood, mold and sludge filling the spaces beneath his nails, but his arms wouldn’t obey. He managed to brush the spongy tail of the creature before it tumbled over the edge and into the darkness below. It hit the water with a faint, echoing splash.
Lucien struggled to catch his breath. Empty and frail, his chest felt like a cage of papier-mâché. He rolled onto his back, panting. His eyes fluttered shut. Something moist crawled across his arms, up his ankles, under his jeans. It slithered through his hair. He was too tired to object. He wanted to sleep. He didn’t want to think about what could have happened if he had eaten in front of Jack. Or worse, if they had been in the middle of the crowded diner.
Inky blackness rose up to meet him, and Lucien didn’t resist.
Ridley Harker is an up-and-coming horror author who delights in all things gay and spooky. Influenced by Billy Martin (Poppy Z. Brite), Clive Barker, and Gemma Files, his favorite books are those with enemies to lovers, great villains, and queer main characters. Horror-romance is his favorite genre. He lives in the Middle of Nowhere with his two dogs, a grumpy old snake, and a host of pet tarantulas. Ridley is currently working on his MFA.
Find out of more on his website: https://www.ridleyharker.com
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