Sasha has spent weeks travelling across the country toward the mines at Salvation Spring, a place she often dreams of but has no recollection of visiting, but hopes will help fill in the gaps of long-lost memories of a traumatic event that her mind has blocked out.
Upon her arrival, she meets Jess, a well-respected local medicine woman who offers her room and board during her visit. Upon learning of Sasha’s intention to visit the local mines she does her best to dissuade her, regaling her with awful tales of hideously disfigured bodies found at the site, with no discernible explanation for their presence. Will Sasha heed Jess’s warnings or will she be the next victim of the horrors that call Salvation Spring home?
Horror westerns are, without a doubt, the big thing in independent horror publishing at the moment. Popularised by Deaths Head Press’s ‘Splatter Western’ line, it seems everyone’s favourite horror authors are all currently in various stages of their own western story with a horror twist, and why not? Westerns and horror go together so well! The tough conditions and desolate plains of the American Old West in the latter part of the 1800s lend themselves to all manner of terrors, both human and monster. TC Parker’s new novella, ‘Salvation Spring’, makes some truly unique use of the melding of these two seemingly disparate genres.
The author has described the book as a ‘weird, queer, cosmic horror western’ so any horror readers in the market for something unique, it’s not as if there are a plethora of books of there that can make the same boasts. It’s also fitting that the word ‘weird’ is first and foremost in that sentence because this was a wildly unpredictable and crazy ride.
The story starts off fairly grounded, as Sasha rides into Salvation Spring and finds the town oddly quiet. Parker drops a few hints that everything may not be quite as it seems and we quickly start to feel the tension build as you get the sense that this is just the calm before the storm. There are further clues as to the more sinister goings-on at this remote little outpost when we first meet Jess, who we immediately realise is going to have a pivotal role in proceedings.
It’s at this point this review gets a little difficult to write because, to say that things take an unexpected turn would be a whopper of an understatement. I won’t spoil anything here but, needless to say, if you think you know how things are going to end, you would be wrong. Weird doesn’t even come close to covering it.
A large part of the novella is spent with Sasha and Jess as their relationship develops, and I really enjoyed how this played out on the page. The pair appear to have fairly different personalities at the outset, Sasha being far more introverted and troubled than the confident, intelligent Jess, but they share a lot of common traits that cements their bond that grows organically. It’s a beautifully written and executed progression from strangers to couple that doesn’t feel forced, or overly exaggerated, but rather grounded and natural and their relationship is both the heart of the book and its highlight.
Without delving into spoiler territory, I will say that the direction the book goes in may lose some readers. It is both strange and completely and utterly unpredictable, and the surprises keep coming even when we learn early on to expect the unexpected. I personally loved the different elements that were introduced and the ‘weird’ element of Parker’s ‘weird, queer, cosmic horror western’ totally worked for me. Besides which, by the time things took a turn for the strange, I was so totally invested in Sasha and Jess and the mystery of Salvation Spring that I was more than willing to just strap myself in and see where the book took me. If you are reading the book and the twist revelation at the midway point throws you, persevere. It is worth it, trust me.
‘Salvation Spring’ has taken the current trend of horror infused Westerns and used it as a springboard for something genuinely new and original. Its standout characters and manic plot twists will keep even the most jaded horror reader gripped until the final page.
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.