As you may be aware, ladies and gentlemen, I occasionally open myself up to taking in the works of my fellow indie genre storytellers, in order to read and provide an honest review for said works. I’ve gone through plenty of them, now, and I’ve finally realized that, dummy me, I should have been posting the reviews here as well!
So, here we have the write-up on ‘Astray’, by Ginny Clyde.
The following is the story’s description as seen on it’s Amazon page listing:
When a travel adventure turns into a horrific misadventure…
Kevin and his three friends decided to go to Scotland for a summer adventure. The highlight of the trip is to follow the trail to the top of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain peak in the British Isles. They are warned against going astray, to not wander off the marked path in the tourist maps but the spirit of adventure lures them towards something sinister.
Find out what happens to them in this chilling horror story…
Now, let’s get to the truth of the matter regarding this tale with the notes I’ve taken for it. Bear in mind, this review was assembled after the author offered me an electronic copy of it for the purposes of receiving an honest review.
As with all of the reviews I perform, what follows here are notes I took throughout the reading with reference to the pages/placements of the material commented upon. It will be wrapped up with a conclusion passage to summarize my findings.
Pg 7- Derek, the ‘dreamy’ blonde-haired, blue-eyed athletic type being the ‘leader’ of the group of friends comes across as a tad too prototypical of the genre of horror. [Prediction: Derek will try to square off with the enemy and get himself killed.]
Pg 7 (bottom)- Haggis is not part of a full Scottish breakfast, though black pudding (made with pork fat, barley and oats in a pig intestine) is. This is only a minor cultural inaccuracy quibble. Also, there was no mention of hotcakes or baked beans, which actually are common to the Scottish breakfast.
Pg 9- ‘It was really thoughtful that the elderly couple had bought coffee just for us.’ This is ‘guided reaction’, a common problem with first-person stories, wherein the author/narrator attempts to tell the reader how they should perceive an act or a character. It’s mildly annoying at best, and insulting at worst. What could have been done was to clarify that the narrator thought it was thoughtful, or just simply point out that the couple had purchased the coffee specifically for their American visitors. How readers view this can be left to them.
Pg 11- ‘dress swirling dress about her.’ A simple missed deletion, I suspect, nothing more.
The scene between our narrator Kevin and the elderly local, Stuart’s grandfather Paul, is a scene horror fans will be well familiar with. It’s the ‘Townie Warns the Intrepid Youth Of Coming Danger, Which They Will Largely Ignore Until Too Late’ trope. [I predict this will be much the same]. This can go one of two ways for readers; they will either be charmed by this obvious homage, or they will roll their eyes and say ‘here we again with this’. For a cinematic example, see the first reboot of Friday the 13th for this precise scene.
Pg 11 (further down)- ‘a chill ran up my spine as I looked at the sketch.’ MAJOR cliché.
Pg 12- Derek’s sudden relinquishing his staunch veganism is a minor thing, but given his previously established ‘alpha male’ standing, this feels a little like a quick cop-out. It might have worked better if he’d taken pains while they were supply shopping before dinner to get his own vegan food. A minor detail, sure, but it could have gone miles toward giving some depth to a character who has, thus far, been a half-step above a raging stereotype.
Pg 16- At the pub, and Derek utters a line of douche so cringe-worth that I HOPE he’s the first one dead.
-‘eating meat is severely reducing my chi.’ This is another case of either being a fan of old-school slasher films and loving the way the character is being set up as unlikable, or finding it so overdone that a dog wouldn’t eat it.
Pg 18- The narrator has had on shot of whiskey. Should he really already be, quote, ‘in a drunken haze’? This feels forced.
Pg 18 (still)- Two lines later, one drink later, the narrator hears himself slur. This now feels like shoehorned hyperbole.
Pg 20-21- Kev decides not to go on the hike he next day after being sick in the middle of the night. This is actually fantastic, because it keeps in line with the character as established. This was a good call to make.
Pg 23- Small cultural note: ‘fanny’ in the UK does not mean ‘ass’. It means vagina or pussy. It seems appropriately used here, so kudos.
Pg 26- Deciding to go out and look for his friends on his own, Kevin betrays his character as established. He has been reasonable up to this point, cautious. He’s waited for word from his friends for over a day, reported them missing, and even located a map of Stuart’s showing where they’d be going with Sheila and her sisters. Why did he not take that map to the authorities? This seems spectacularly out of character for him, an inconsistency born not out of being true to the character, but out of forced service to the plot.
Pgs 28-29- The camcorder and its found footage. Along with the clothing and blood splotches, we have an obvious ‘get the hell out of there’ moment. This, again, feels very classic movie moment in the genre, and not in a good way.
Pg 31- A victim nearly vomiting on it stopped this creature? Seriously?? And covering by claiming to be gay, that a female touch physically repulsed him (Kevin)? I call bollocks. While I can tip my hat to finding a different means of survival than the usual ‘fight to the death’, it falls flat here. Given what Kevin saw these creatures do on the video to his friends, he should have been slaughtered in the blink of an eye.
The ending- ‘They went astray.’ This line felt more forced than the Play-Doh being shoved out of one of those plastic play spaghetti makers.
‘Astray’ is a cautionary tale of a sort we’ve seen done many, many times, and done much better or more creatively. This is not a poorly written work, mechanically speaking. Rather, it’s stunningly down-the-middle, and possesses a couple of glaring shortcomings, offset by a couple of good moments. The entire story as a narrative could have been salvaged with a little effort and ingenuity.
I’m giving this one a 5 out of 10. It’s not awful, but it’s not exactly noteworthy, and above all, it’s not worth the $6 price tag in trade paperback.