Review: Blood Kin

Posted: February 12, 2016 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Steve Rasnic Tem, Horror

I don’t mention cover art all that much in my reviews. It’s likely a failing of mine, but for some reason or another it only very seldomly comes up when I’m putting together my thoughts on a book. This time around though, I really have to mention it because it not only introduced the setting of the novel just perfectly (worth a thousand words and more), but also gave me a solid image to build upon while reading the beginning of the book, which was quite good all on its own, but brilliantly set when paired with the cover.

BLOOD KIN by Steve Rasnic Tem (Amazon) was a Bram Stoker Award winner for Superior Achievement. It’s sometimes impressive to see the list of awards that are given to books, but I’ve been burned so many times before by picking up books with awards that I don’t usually put much credence in them. Regardless, it was nice to dive in and find something well-written enough to pull me into its gentle clutches of shadowy, creeping goodness.

The story takes place in the southern range of the Appalachian mountains. A young man, Michael Gibson, has come home to live with his ailing grandmother after a failed relationship and suicide attempt, and finds very little to cheer him up while there. In fact, there are times that he wishes the old hag would just keel over and take one final breath herself. Very soon, though, she begins to talk about things of which she has never before spoken. These “stories” are told from her perspective in the 1930s as a twelve-year-old girl, and from this point the tale jumps back and forth between their two viewpoints. Michael has always wondered about the family curse that causes them to feel the pain of others, and these tellings leave him weak and drained from experiencing his grandmother’s memories, but also leaves within him a desire to understand why she is sharing them with him now.

The atmosphere of the story is really well done: from the progress of the creeping kudzu that begins to surround the (old) grandmother’s cabin to the mesmerizing power of the (young) grandmother’s minister-uncle. Also, lurking in the dense kudzu-forest near the present-day cabin, there’s an iron-bound coffin, buried deep in the foliage, that may hold a mortal danger for Mr. Michael Gibson and his elderly grandmother. The characters, both primary and secondary, are quite well-drawn with problems and motivations equal to their age and station and time that help to draw a compelling story.

BLOOD KIN had enough story to be enjoyable. Even a weak ending couldn't entirely spoil it. Worth a read, but perhaps not a spot on your personal bookshelf.

And yet. Despite how well the story began and grew, it is at the end that things began to unravel. As Michael, and thus we readers, find out more about his grandmother’s life and what is waiting for the two of them in the buried iron-bound casket, there is a point at which everything becomes rather…urgent…without any reasoning as to why such a change has suddenly occurred. From this point the conclusion rapidly falls into place with Michael making several choices and decisions that don’t quite add up to what he knows or even what he doesn’t. Still, the story was enough for me to enjoy it, and even the weak ending couldn’t entirely spoil it for me.

Worth a read, but perhaps not a spot on your personal bookshelf.

  • Recommended Age: 18+
  • Language: Pretty strong, but not a lot
  • Violence: Mostly implied, but there are a couple fairly icky scenes
  • Sex: Deals with themes of child abuse

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