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Welcome to Rick’s Read-Along. A new series presented by Horror Oasis where I visit an author’s back catalog and encourage you, the reader, to read along with me.  I will publish my thoughts on each book every two weeks, while also announcing the next book I’ll be reading. Every author selected will be someone whose back catalog is readily available and is somebody we feel our readers will enjoy discovering along with us. I hope that you’ll all join me in sharing your thoughts.

In this latest installment, to mark the occasion of the recent release of the final book in the series, I’ll be reading the cult horror ‘Father of Lies’ trilogy by Steve Stred. Stred is a prolific writer of dark fiction, whose books include ‘Pieces of Me’, ‘The Window in the Ground’, ‘Of Witches…’, and ‘The Future in the Sky’. As well as being an independent author of horror fiction, Steve has written hundreds of reviews supporting the genre via Kendall Reviews and is a proud supporter of the Ladies of Horror Fiction and their Annual Writers Grant. Visit his website at stevestredauthor.wordpress.com

As part of this latest read-along series, I will be reading the ‘Father of Lies’ trilogy, made up of the three novellas ‘Ritual’, ‘Communion’ and ‘Sacrament’. Telling the story of a mysterious cult, told through the eyes of both its members and those on the outside. The books offer a pitch-black insight into the inner workings of a dangerous and violent sect, dealing with themes of manipulation and faith. A warning before we start, the trilogy features scenes of extreme violence, some of which is of a sexual nature. I would urge anyone who may be triggered by such content to take this into consideration before picking up this series.

As these articles are intended to encourage people to read these books along with me there will obviously be spoilers ahead, although I will strive to keep them minor and avoid spoiling major reveals or twists along the way for those who haven’t read it yet.

The Ritual follows Brad, a 9-5 worker at a call centre and a devoutly religious man, and the opening chapter joins him at an especially mundane part of his day as he gets up and begins his morning routine. The opening scene paints a picture of a man with little money and even less joy in his life, picking cheap clothes out of a cheap closet, and making do with plastic patio furniture in his bedroom. He never seems particularly dissatisfied with his lot in life and, as we find out as the story progresses, this monotony and rigid routine is one he has cultivated for himself as a way to avoid change (or, as he puts it, ‘surprises and chaos’).

As the chapter progresses and we get to know Brad a little better, we’re clued in on an upcoming event that has him very excited. What that may be, we’re not quite sure, but it’s strongly suggested it relates to his church, which seems to dominate his personal life. In fact, his religion seems to define him, as he spends most of his free time studying his bible (his copy so well-read that it is literally falling to pieces) and even his vices (‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ being almost the sole example) are determined by how ‘sinful’ they are.

The build-up is fairly innocuous at first, as we follow Brad picking up supplies for the church and going to work, where he is a diligent, if somewhat socially clumsy, employee, spending his days cold calling customers to sell them overpriced TVs. It isn’t long until more sinister undertones start seeping into the prose, and we begin to suspect that his church may not be of the wholesome Christian variety.

As we gradually find out, the church is actually heavily into Satan worship. This is very much the ‘Satanic Panic’ skewed version of a Satanist, complete with sodomy and occult rituals to, literally, summon demons, which is the special date that Brad has so been looking forward to. This revelation flips the story on its head and, once this distinction is made, the book takes a much darker turn.

One of the things I enjoyed most about ‘Ritual’ was how matter-of-factly the events of the book are treated, told as they are through Brad’s eyes. Scenes of self-flagellation, or even sexual assault at the hands of the church’s Father, aren’t there for shock value or presented in an overly exploitative way. The descriptions are quick and vague, giving the reader just enough to know what is happening without lingering, and this is because we’re being told these events from Brad’s perspective and, for him, these things are just another part of his day, and his routine. The content may be extreme, but it is also important to the story because how he feels and reacts to these terrible things says so much about Brad and his current state of mind.

Once we have a better idea of what is going on, the question then becomes whether the supernatural beliefs of Father and his followers and the ritual they are building up to, is actually going to work. There is an interesting detour just at the books midway point that jumps back in time to the 1920s and tells of the last time the ritual was attempted that answers the question pretty definitively, and from that point on, the book becomes less of a slow burn cult-horror/drama, and more full-blown nightmare fuel. Stred gets some pretty intense body horror and generally spooky scenes in as things build and escalate to an epic and unforgettable conclusion.

For such a short book (a brisk 78 pages), there sure is a lot going on in ‘Ritual’, with a switch in direction midway through, plus some time jumps as well as setting up book two. It is a quick read, but there is an awful lot to digest. I’m loath to say I enjoyed the book, as enjoy feels like the wrong word, but I was absolutely enthralled throughout. Brad is a fascinating character to follow, unlikeable and almost unrelatable, but a tragic figure and one that will stick in my memory. The horror elements work incredibly well, whether that be the suspenseful build-up, or the scare factor once things kick into fifth gear. The whole thing is rounded off with some vivid prose and an interesting story to tell. I’m not going to lie, I was really tempted to just jump straight into book two…

By the end, I was wondering how the trilogy could continue, as ‘Ritual’ is very satisfying as a standalone read, and tells Brad’s story fully and definitively. The closing chapter gives us our answer and sets up an interesting new direction for book two. Speaking of which…

 

Please join me back here in 2 weeks, when we will be reading the second book in the series, ‘Communion’. Hope to see you all then!

Richard Martin

Richard Martin

Reviewer

Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books. 

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