Blaire Baker is an American teaching graduate who volunteers at an impoverished eastern European orphanage. The children under her care bear mysterious injuries and the local staff almost seem to be neglecting intentionally, feeding them the same miserable gruel everyday. And there’s something bad in the basement.
The Unwanted has got some crackingly good characterization, aided by credible dialogue. Besides Blaire, the most important person in the book is her fellow volunteer and nurse Travis Wells. They complement each other well in their sarcasm and refusal to acknowledge the strangeness of their situation. Slowly throughout the novel their backstories unfold, although protagonist Blaire gets more focus, and their pasts help make these character’s actions consistent and believable. (Blaire would have enough horrific experiences under her belt if she never left America, but to elaborate further would be to venture into spoiler territory.) By the end of the book, these two characters begin to feel real.
In many horror stories the protagonist is thrust into danger by their curiosity, stubbornness or idiocy. (I’m still annoyed at Titus Crow for hanging out with that obvious Aleister Crowley clone.) This isn’t the case with Blaire. Guilt and compassion motivate her to volunteer at the orphanage, and her concern for the children’s welfare moves her to improve things for them. Whenever she considers escaping her spooky surroundings she calls her friend Emma, one of the administrators of the program, who reminds her that volunteers often get cold feet after the first fortnight and that things are probably worse in Africa. This is one of the most plausible justifications for hanging around a house that’s probably haunted that I’ve ever come across. It really helps me take the main characters and their situation seriously.
I like how the ebook of this novel has been formatted, with the first letter of each chapter made about twenty times larger than another. Presentation really shouldn’t matter in fiction, so I feel a bit guilty at being so impressed by this. Self-publishers and small presses should look to The Unwanted for an example of how to do an ebook.
The Unwanted is a surprising novel, but if I said exactly how then it wouldn’t be.
It’s also a very lyrical novel. Rivers is clearly a talented writer, whose prose would be more expected in a big L-Literary short fiction than in anything as genre as horror. Most of the time this style is engaging and fantastic for setting mood and atmosphere, which is important in horror, but it can get a little overwhelming in action scenes. If the metaphors and adjectives were slightly toned down than the prose would be excellent. As it is, it’s very good.
I enjoyed this book and I’d recommend it to the universe at large. More specifically, anyone who really enjoyed Franz Kafka’s The Castle, another unsettling tale about a stranger lost in an Eastern European town dominated by a sinister building, will love The Unwanted.
A free copy of this book was given to me to review. Pick up yours at Amazon.