I have been a fan of Michael McBride for a long time now. I was hooked the first time I read one of his novels, “God’s End,” when it was first published by Delirium Books (now DarkFuse). I was immediately hooked by McBride’s blend of realism and the supernatural and how he can twist the real world to make his fiction all the more terrifying. I was happy to have an advance review copy of his upcoming novel, “Sunblind,” and was hoping to find more of the same scares that I have come to expect from a McBride novel.
The Sonoran Desert is one of the harshest places on Earth. It is a land in which only the hardiest of species can survive. Humans are not one of these species. Their bodies are too soft and require too much moisture to survive long under the glaring sun the rules this land. Thousands of people regularly risk their lives in spite of this with the hope of a brighter future. Coming from poverty in Mexico and hoping for a better life in the United States, illegal immigrants travel across the desert hoping that the sacrifices they must make to cross the desert will be outweighed by the benefit of reaching a country that promises opportunity. Many of those who journey into the desert disappear, never to be seen again.
When U.S. Border Patrol Agent Christian Rivera discovers the body of the woman with three words carved into her chest, he is afraid that his worst fears may have finally been realized. This could be the big one: a mass death scenario that would change the world forever. With his team, he begins the scour the desert for signs of the group that the woman must have been travelling with. It was always thought that the sun and the heat were the true main dangers of the Sonoran Desert. Rivera has always worried that there could be something more out there and even more afraid that he may soon learn that this fear may in fact be reality.
“Sunblind” lived up to my expectations and then it blew them away. It is obvious that McBride is familiar with the setting and the mythology that surrounds this area of the country as evidenced from this story and others set in the American Southwest and he uses the knowledge to create something that feels almost familiar but new and terrifying at the same time. “Sunblind” flips back and forth between Agent Rivera’s search for answers and a real-time telling of what happened to the woman in a way that the novel weaves together to almost form too different stories that join to form a better whole. The reader becomes invested in the group of immigrants that are struggling for survival while at the same time seeing Rivera’s actions and knowing that he is headed toward a tragic end. McBride keeps the intensity ratcheted to the highest level and this book and the tension weighs upon the reader even while the reader is compelled to turn the page to see what happens next.
“Sunblind,” like many of McBride’s books, is not for the weak of heart. McBride has a style that gives his work a brutality even though he does not resort to overly graphic descriptions of violence or dwell on gore. McBride sets up a story in which the humanity of the characters shines through and the reader develops an emotional connection with them even though the reader knows that they are going to meet a terrible end. Then McBride strikes and, while there is blood and viscera, he sets the scene in a way in which the reader must take in the violence as a whole and develop the details on his own. This is why McBride is one of the few writers who can scare me in every book. I read “Sunblind” with my hands clenching and unclenching while almost wishing that I could stop but knowing that I just had to know what was coming next. I just knew that the monster was lurking around the corner but, like a character destined for the grave in a slasher movie, I could not help myself. I was scared silly the entire time and I loved every minute of it. “Sunblind” is one of the best horror novels I have read in a long time and evoked some of the same awe and terror that I found in some of the best works by writers such as Richard Laymon and Jack Ketchum. This is not watered-down horror. This novel has teeth. Reading it may feel a little dangerous at times but is well worth it for those who have the courage to face the darkness that lies within.
I would like to thank DarkFuse and NetGalley for this advance review copy. “Sunblind” is scheduled to be released by DarkFuse on September 2nd and is available for preorder now.