Review: “Accursed” By Guy N. Smith (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a short break from sci-fi novels and read a 1980s horror novel 🙂 In particular, I thought that I’d take a look at Guy N. Smith’s 1983 novel “Accursed”.

And, yes, as soon as I saw this novel’s wonderfully melodramatic title and noticed that it had an ancient Egypt theme to it, I just had to get a second-hand copy of it. Plus, although my reaction to the other Smith novels I’ve read over the years (like “The Undead) was fairly lukewarm, this one seemed to show a bit more promise 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Accursed”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1988 Arrow (UK) paperback edition of “Accursed” that I read.

The novel begins in Egypt during the early 1920s. An English vicar and archaeologist called Mason is arguing with a local guide called Suma. To Mason’s arrogant dismay, Suma also refuses to have anything to do with the latest tomb that he has discovered. Most of the local workers leave too. Undeterred by this, Mason breaks into the tomb and discovers two mummies and a mysterious serpent amulet. Ghostly voices speak to him, begging him to remove them from this place.

Mason ends up taking both the mummies and the amulet back to England for further study. However, in our humid climate, the mummies begin to rot and – after some complaints about the smell from his housekeeper – he decides to bury them near the river. However, in the middle of this, the serpent amulet glows and speaks. Frightened by this diabolical turn of events, Mason throws it into the open grave. The mummies howl with anguish and betrayal. Mason flees to the house and begins to write a letter before suddenly dying of a heart attack.

Then we flash forwards to the 1980s. In the midlands, a grumpy and unemployed middle-aged man called George Brownlow lives in a posh part of town with his wife Emily, who has become a snob ever since she won enough money to buy the house. They argue regularly. But, after seeing a story on the news about nuclear tensions in Libya, George decides to build a fallout shelter in the garden, regardless of what Emily might think about it. But, when he starts digging, he quickly finds buried treasure! An amulet…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel was that it was a lot creepier than I’d expected. Yes, it can be amusingly melodramatic at times, but if you’re expecting a gloriously cheesy and gleefully fun 1980s cursed amulet splatterpunk novel like Shaun Hutson’s “Deathday“, then you might be in for a frightening surprise. Seriously, this was a much more effective horror novel than I’d thought it would be 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s excellent horror elements. Although it contains a few infrequent moments of 1980s-style gory horror, this surprisingly isn’t the main focus of the story. Instead, this novel contains a wonderfully disturbing mixture of claustrophobic horror, psychological horror, disease horror, death-based/macabre horror, suspense, apocalyptic horror, tragic horror, paranormal horror, ghostly horror, insect horror, character-based horror and religious/mythological horror.

Guy N. Smith is a much better horror author than I’d previously thought. Although this novel will rarely shock you, it is filled with a creepy, uneasy and oppressive atmosphere of dread that will weigh heavily on you. It will unsettle and disturb you with bizarre occurences and the slow spectacle of a dysfunctional family becoming more and more dysfunctional. Plus, even though they shouldn’t “work”, the scenes that transplant the Biblical plagues of Egypt to 1980s Britain not only work well but are actually more scary if you already know this old story.

And, yes, the parallels between Ancient Egypt and Christian mythology in this novel are fairly interesting – with the ancient Egyptian god Set taking the role that the devil would typically take in more traditional horror stories. And what a monster he is. Although you don’t really see him directly, he speaks to the characters in a wonderfully creepy – yet melodramatic – way, not to mention that the eyes of his serpent amulet also glow bright red at almost every opportunity. Although all of this stuff should be hilariously silly, the novel is written in a way that actually makes it scary (well, most of the time at least).

The novel is also made more unsettling through the theme of ancient tragedy too, with the events of the story paralleling the tragic fates of an ancient Egpytian priestess and a commoner – whose doomed love is forced to play out again through the possessed bodies of the Brownlow family. Far from ruining the suspense, this sense of knowing what has happened and what will happen again actually adds to it – and this novel is almost like watching a horrific tragedy in slow-motion and feeling powerless to prevent it. This gut-clenching feeling of inevitable doom is also enhanced by the cold war nuclear paranoia in the background of the story too.

The ancient Egypt-themed elements of the story work fairly well, and really help to add a lot of atmosphere to the novel – especially when they are transplanted to the more familiar setting of 20th Century Britain with, for example, spiders replacing scorpions and the country being stricken by a terrible heatwave that reminded me a lot of the one that happened in 2018 (although, of course, the novel’s heatwave is based on the famous one in 1976).

Smith has obviously done his research, since there are lots of Egyptian terms and little bits of mythology sprinkled throughout the novel, in addition to a few Biblical-style elements too (eg: lots of snake imagery, plagues etc..). My only complaint is that the mummification scene doesn’t involve the most well-known part of the mummification ritual, which (as anyone who has read a “Horrible Histories” book or ten when they were younger will know) involves the removal of the brain with a hook. I was kind of expecting, perhaps even dreading, this… and was a little bit disappointed, for want of a better word.

In terms of the characters, this novel is surprisingly good. The novel’s characters are one of the main sources of horror here, and they all come across as very realistic and normal people, with all of the flaws and emotions that you would expect. Although you shouldn’t expect hyper-detailed backstories, the characters really do feel like real people leading tragic lives. Likewise, the character development sometimes goes in some surprisingly unexpected ways too, such as downtrodden George slowly becoming a possessed fanatic and the tyrannical, snobbish Emily very gradually becoming more of a sympathetic character.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is ’80s horror fiction narration at it’s best 🙂 It is formal and descriptive enough to add atmosphere and weight to the story, whilst being “matter of fact” enough to keep things moving at a decent pace and give the story a more realistic feeling. This novel is also written in a very dramatic way and although this adds extra horror most of the time, it can sometimes veer into hilariously amusing melodrama (with sentences like “Death!” and chapter titles like “Snakes!” and “Horus!”). Still, given the overwhelming and oppressively claustrophobic atmosphere of the story, these moments of unintentional comedy add some much-needed relief 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good too. At an efficient 239 pages in length, it never feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, although this novel relies on gradually building suspense, it never really feels slow-paced when you’re reading it thanks to lots of exquisitely creepy moments of horror.

As for how well this thirty-seven year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Yes, there are some very ’80s elements here, like the class politics, the cold war nuclear fears etc… and some moments are probably a bit “politically incorrect” by modern standards too. But, the novel’s horror and atmosphere are pretty much timeless. The story itself almost feels like something that could have played out in the 1990s or the 2000s or even the 2010s. And the atmosphere of miserable, mundane suburban life is a surprisingly timeless thing too.

All in all, this is a really good horror novel 🙂 If you like ancient Egypt or want a 1980s horror novel that might actually scare you, then this one is well worth reading 🙂 Seriously, Guy N. Smith really is a better horror writer than I’d previously thought.

If I had to give this novel a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “Nefertiti” By Michelle Moran (Novel)

A few days before writing this review, I happened to see two documentaries about ancient Egypt. And, since I was in a bit of an “ancient Egypt” kind of mood afterwards, I remembered that I had a second-hand copy of Michelle Moran’s 2007 novel “Nefertiti” that a relative had given me several years ago.

So, let’s take a look at “Nefertiti”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2008 Quercus (UK) paperback edition of “Nefertiti” that I read.

“Nefertiti” is a historical novel about the reign of Nefertiti, queen and Pharaoh of Egypt. The story begins with a brief third-person description of how one of the elder pharaoh’s sons, Tuthmosis, dies in suspicious circumstances. Then, the novel is narrated by Nefertiti’s younger sister Mutnodjemet, beginning in Thebes when the sisters are teenagers and their influential father, Vizier Ay, manages to arrange a marriage between Nefertiti and the elder pharaoh’s only surviving son Amunhotep.

When Amunhotep is granted control of lower Egypt, he begins to order sweeping religious changes in addition to ordering the construction of a new city in the desert. Of course, Vizier Ay hopes that Nefertiti can influence the pharaoh to keep Egypt’s ancient religious traditions. However, the lure of power is strong and Nefertiti is eager to grab it…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a brilliantly epic, dramatic and atmospheric historical saga – although it is rather slow to start.

In essence, if you can get through the first hundred pages or so, then you’ll be rewarded with a wonderfully gripping story that reminded me of both HBO’s excellent “Rome” TV series (in terms of atmosphere, grandeur and style) and “Game Of Thrones” (in terms of ruthless political intrigue, drama, tyrannical rulers etc..). This novel is just as good, if not better, than these TV shows – but only once you’ve got past about the first hundred pages or so. So, stick with this book.

In terms of the historical elements of this novel – I am very glad that I watched a couple of documentaries before I read it. Whilst the story can of course be enjoyed as a simple drama/political thriller/romance/ historical saga without any prior knowledge, having a little bit of general background knowledge will help you to spot some of the novel’s moments of dramatic irony and/or historical accuracy (eg: there’s a throwaway line about Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus late in the book that is accurate to the archaeological findings in one of the documentaries I saw).

But, even if you know enough about the history to know how the story’s main events will turn out, most of the novel is still intriguingly gripping because of all of the various sub-plots and moments of drama. Because the novel is written from the perspective of Nefertiti’s sister, she is able to be involved in events, plots and romances that aren’t part of the well-known historical narrative. Likewise, some of the novel’s political schemes, plots and power plays are also rather unpredictable too. As such, the story can still be nail-bitingly suspenseful even if you know some of the history.

Plus, looking on Wikipedia, there does seem to be some deliberate artistic licence (eg: with regard to Horemheb and Mutnodjemet, with regard to how Nefertiti dies etc…). Although this isn’t historically accurate, it helps to add some unpredictability and drama to the story. However, when doing a little bit of background reading whilst writing this review, I suddenly noticed that two of the novel’s background characters (Ay and Horemheb) later became pharaohs, which is kind of cool.

In addition to this, the story is a grimly compelling drama about the nature of evil and the corrupting influence of power. Since, through Mutnodjemet’s eyes, we get to watch how Nefertiti goes from being a loving sister into a cold-hearted, selfish and imperious ruler.

In addition to this, the Pharaoh Amunhotep/Akhenaten is also a brilliantly chilling character too – he’s a religious fanatic, who is drunk with power and scarily incompetent too (eg: he orders the army to build him a new city, whilst some of Egypt’s outer territories are being invaded by Hittites etc..). So, this novel is a fascinatingly chilling glimpse into the nature of evil and tyranny too.

Yet, the novel’s emotional tone is surprisingly balanced. Unlike, say, “Game of Thrones”, this isn’t an unrelentingly bleak story. Yes, there are certainly grim, shocking, poignant, chilling, bleak and suspenseful moments but these are also balanced out with more joyous, heartwarming and peaceful moments. This novel is a wonderfully powerful emotional rollercoaster. So, if you want something that is a little bit like “Game Of Thrones”, but with a little bit less of a bleak tone to it, then you’ll enjoy this novel 🙂

The religious politics of ancient Egypt are also a really interesting element of this novel too. Basically, the novel covers the relatively brief period of history where Amunhotep/Akhenaten changed the state religion from the religion of Amun (eg: the traditional deities like Horus, Osiris, Anubis, Amun-Ra etc...) to the worship of a single sun god called Aten.

In addition to showing some of the reasons why the Pharaoh did this – eg: a mixture of religious fanaticism and a way to take power away from the influential priests of Amun – Moran also adds a bit of extra drama and suspense to the story by showing many of the characters still secretly worshipping the old gods in a similar way to how Americans drank in speakeasies etc… during prohibition.

The characters in this book are absolutely brilliant and the decision to narrate the story from the perspective of Nefertiti’s younger sister – who just wants to tend a garden and start a family, rather than get involved in politics – is a surprisingly good one. Not only is she a really likeable character, but her humanity is also brilliantly contrasted with many of the more sociopathic and power-hungry characters that she encounters. Seriously, I really loved the characters and characterisation in this novel 🙂

In terms of the writing and first-person narration, it’s fairly good too. The novel is written in a fairly readable style which is descriptive enough to evoke the grandeur and traditions of ancient Egypt whilst still being modern and matter-of-fact enough to be able to be read at a reasonable pace. The novel also uses a few Egyptian words to add flavour to the story, but the meaning is always obvious from the context – so, it never gets confusing.

In terms of the length and pacing, it’s reasonably ok. Although, as I mentioned, the novel is a bit slow to start, the final three-quarters of the book move at a reasonably decent pace. Whilst this isn’t exactly an ultra-fast paced thriller, the narration moves at a good pace and there are enough moments of drama to keep you gripped throughout most of the book. And, at about 420 pages or so, this novel is a little bit on the long side – but still just about compact enough not to feel bloated.

All in all, this is an absolutely brilliant historical novel. Yes, the first hundred pages or so are a bit of a slog but, once you get past those, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderfully gripping tale of power, intrigue, family and politics. I absolutely loved the atmosphere and characters in this novel too. As I mentioned earlier, if you like TV shows like “Rome” and “Game Of Thrones”, then you’ll probably enjoy this book 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Today’s Art (5th December 2018)

Well, since I was tired, I decided to make a digitally-edited drawing instead of a painting. Since the opening chapter of the novel I was reading at the time (The Pharaoh’s Secret” by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown) was set in Ancient Egypt, this seemed like a good theme. Of course, the drawing quickly went in much more of a gothic horror/ Lovecraftian horror- style direction. And, for something that I made in 30-40 minutes when I was tired, it turned out a lot better than I expected.

As usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Procession” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (16th February 2018)

Today’s (very heavily) digitally-edited painting was another one that I made when I was tired. Originally, it was just going to be a greyscale painting but I eventually decided to add some colour digitally.

Although it isn’t a perfect painting, I was in the mood for making some Anceint Egypt-themed “Roaring Twenties” mostly due to playing part of a really interesting FPS game from 1996 called “Killing Time“.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Another Soiree” By C. A. Brown

Mini Review : “Epic 2” (WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “GZ Doom”)

2015 Artwork Epic 2 WAD review sketch

[Note: This “first impressions”/mini review article was originally meant to be posted here in March, but I ended up rescheduling it for various reasons. Sorry about the delay.]

Well, after seeing some gameplay footage from this WAD in a Youtube video, I thought that I’d take a look at a 32-level “Doom II” WAD from 2010 called “Epic 2“.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that I used the “GZ Doom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Likewise, at the original time of writing this review, I was somewhere between halfway and two-thirds of the way through this WAD – so, this review only reflects my impressions of the game up to that point. Unfortunately, at the time, I ended up moving on to another WAD before I quite had a chance to finish “Epic 2” if I remember rightly.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Epic 2”:

Screenshot_Doom_20150728_151955

One of the first things I will say about this WAD is that the settings in it are really interesting. From what I’ve played so far, there are levels set in both ancient Egypt and on a mysterious alien spacecraft of some kind.

As someone who is both a sci-fi fan and a fan of ancient Egypt, it’s really cool to see both of these things together in the same WAD. Seriously, it’s a little bit like “Stargate SG-1”.

Although this WAD gets off to a bit of a slow start, with the first four levels mostly taking place in a series of slightly gloomy ancient Egyptian crypts, temples, catacombs and tunnels, with the occasional bright outdoor area to break up the monotony – the fifth level is more than a little bit reminiscent of the first “Serious Sam” game in terms of both settings and gameplay.

Yay! It's like a mid-1990s version of "Serious Sam" :)

Yay! It’s like a mid-1990s version of “Serious Sam” 🙂

The sci-fi levels are surprisingly creepy and innovative too, with a slight “Duke Nukem 3D” feel to them. Also, the thirteenth level of this WAD is absolutely outstanding.

Basically, you’re stuck in a rather claustrophobic series of corridors, with relatively little ammo and lots of arch-viles. In addition to this, the background music in this level is a wonderfully creepy track that sounds a lot like something from “American McGee’s Alice“. I don’t think that you can get more awesome than this.

Even though this level reminded me quite a bit of one spectacular level in a WAD I played quite a while ago called “Equinox“, it’s still a really cool (and creepy) level.

 Seriously, there should be more of these levels..

Seriously, there should be more of these levels..

In terms of difficulty, this WAD is for experienced “Doom” players only. If you like your WADs to be fiendishly challenging, then you’ll love “Epic 2”.

Although each level I’ve played contains a large number of monsters, proper “slaughtermap”-style areas (with far more monsters than you can actually fight) are fairly rare in this WAD.

Even so, you’re still going to have to use a lot of tactics and strategies if you want to get through this WAD. This WAD also takes a bit of a traditionalist approach to the gameplay – so, jumping is disabled by default.

Plus, quite fittingly for a WAD that is set in Ancient Egypt, there are a surprising number of puzzles in “Epic 2”. Whilst most of them are the usual switch-based and key-based puzzles, expect to spend a fair amount of time searching for hidden areas (you’ll need to find some of them in order to progress through a couple of the levels) and even solving the occasional combination puzzle:

 Interestingly, this ISN'T the combination you have to use later in the level. You have to do something else to find the actual combination.

Interestingly, this ISN’T the combination you have to use later in the level. You have to do something else to find the actual combination.

Visually, this WAD is surprisingly beautiful and there are a lot of new textures here. Even the slightly “gloomy” early levels still contain all sorts of wonderfully cool ancient Egypt-themed textures:

Like this wondefully macabre room.

Like this wondefully macabre room.

And there's also molten lava in one of the other early levels too.

And there’s also molten lava in one of the other early levels too.

...And this cool teleporter in the last "Ancient Egypt" level.

…And this cool teleporter in the last “Ancient Egypt” level.

Although most of the weapons in this WAD are just the standard “Doom II” weapons, the pistol ammunition looks like revolver ammunition for some reason and the rocket launcher now looks like a vaguely steampunk-esque cannon of some kind:

Huzzah! Fire the cannon!

Huzzah! Fire the cannon!

As for the monsters, a few of them (the imps, the chaingun zombies and the pain elementals) have slightly different textures. However, this WAD does contain a new monster.

During the spaceship levels, you’ll encounter aliens that can appear and disappear at will. These aliens also shout at you (I think they say “there he is” or “there she is” or something like that) when they see you too.

Although these new monsters are technically a replacement for the “Wolfenstein” enemies from the secret level (so, this WAD might not work if you have the German version of “Doom II” or the modern censored version), they’re basically a new monster in all but name:

Yay! Innovation!

Yay! Innovation!

All in all, from what I’ve played so far, I really like this WAD. It’s enjoyably challenging and surprisingly atmospheric. Yes, the really impressive levels don’t appear until a little way into the WAD but it’s certainly a fairly solid “Doom II” WAD and it’s worth checking out.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, I’d give it a four.

Today’s Art (22nd November 2015)

Well, I wasn’t really feeling as inspired as I’d hoped and, after a couple of failed attempts at making a cartoon-style painting, I eventually ended up making a fairly minimalist Ancient Egypt-themed silhouette landscape instead.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Plains Of The Pyramids" By C. A. Brown

“Plains Of The Pyramids” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (27th August 2015)

Well, today’s painting was inspired by a documentary I watched a few months ago about animal mummification in Ancient Egypt. Anyway, one of the surprising things I learnt from this documentary was that they mummified a surprising range of animals (including crocodiles) and that the mummies were often stored in large underground catacombs. Anyway, the documentary made me wonder if there was a catacomb for crocodile mummies and what it would look like if it existed….

Although I quite like how this painting turned out, the original watercolour painting didn’t really look “ancient” enough, so I ended up using quite a few digital effects on the final version of the picture.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Catacomb Of The Crocodiles" By C. A. Brown

“Catacomb Of The Crocodiles” By C. A. Brown