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Welcome to Rick’s Read-Along. A new series presented by Horror Oasis where I visit an author’s back catalogue 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 catalogue 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 instalment, 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.

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.

“I have made myself in my Lords image”

This line, spoken by Father in the opening chapter of ‘Sacrament’ is a horrifying one when you consider the descriptions that we have had of his Lord in the previous two instalments, and the vague descriptions and body-horror suggestions that accompany this line let us know from (literally) page one, that this closing chapter in the Father of Lies trilogy is not going to shy away from the extreme content and unsettling imagery that has made the series so memorable.

‘Sacrament’ follows Professor Bianchi, who we met in the second half of ‘Communion’ as he assisted the ill-fated Detective McKay in his investigations into Father’s cult and the events of ‘Ritual’. Whereas book one featured a protagonist heavily involved in the cult, and book two switched things up to tell the story from the perspective of an outsider, ‘Sacrament’ changes things again and gives us an actual adversary for Father, and someone who may have the means to actually stop him. Brad and Detective McKay were both interesting protagonists, but both felt like they were helpless to change how things played out and were just pawns in a bigger scheme along for the ride. Bianchi, on the other hand, has a great deal of knowledge about the cult, and the Black Heavens, and has a past relationship with Father which means he can actually influence events. It was a refreshing change of pace to see Father as fallible as opposed to the force of nature he has been up until now. 

If ‘Ritual’ was relatively grounded, and ’Communion’ hinted at bigger things to come, ‘Sacrament’ is full-on epic.

Things get very surreal in this book and it is not always clear what is real and what is a dream or delusion. The scale is infinitely bigger than what has come before it, featuring multiple visits to the Black Heavens, a place Father has obsessed over but one left wisely unseen until now. This big finale packs in more action than books one and two combined and the tense build-up of books one and two is replaced with frantic and fast-paced assault on the senses as the story gets bigger and the stakes get higher.

Along with the change in pace and increase in action, the horror switches from the more subtle and insidious suggestions of the previous books, into something more overt. In particular, ‘Sacrament’ ramps up the body-horror in a big way and Father’s transformation (and the changes he inflicts upon his congregation) are truly horrific and it certainly leaves an impression. The glimpses we get of the Black Heavens also make a big impact, the descriptions vivid and grotesque. It is a place that is important to the story and has been built up a great deal, and actually getting some insight into it adds an extra layer to Fathers plans and why he has spent so long trying to gain access. 

As always, I’m not going to spoil the ending here, but I have been looking forward to seeing where things have been leading up to because I can honestly say I had no idea how things were going to play out. The whole series has been wildly unpredictable and there has been an ‘anything goes’ attitude throughout which has meant the fates of Bianchi, Father and the wider cast could go either way. I think the ending we get here is perfect, and totally fits the story we’ve been told. 

A word of warning to everyone who has made it this far. By now you’ll have read the trilogy along with me and even the most hardened horror fan would agree that there has been some fairly extreme content along the way, but content that is, even more clearly so as the trilogy progresses, fictional. The author’s afterword in ‘Sacrament’, which details his research into the book and includes an insight into a real-life cult that has inspired some of the work in the trilogy, contains some all too real details of actual events. Much like Jack Ketchum’s afterword in his infamous novel, The Girl Next Door, Stred’s afterword for this trilogy is probably scarier and certainly more disturbing than any fictional accounts that precede it and it is a fascinating insight, albeit one that will stay with me for some time after I’ve put the book down. 

Stred does end on a positive note, however, announcing that a Father of Lies Omnibus is due to be released in 2021. As of writing, that Omnibus has just been released and contains a new novelette set in this world (‘Eucharist’). I hope you’ll all join me in picking up a copy and that you’ll share your thoughts with us on this brand new story.

That’s it for our Steve Stred read-along! I hope you’ve enjoyed the books and, if so, please consider leaving reviews wherever you post online. Please join me back here in 2 weeks, when we will be kicking off a new series, featuring prolific horror author Michael Patrick Hicks. 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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