A book review by Richard Martin
Best known for her ongoing action-packed, vampire-centric ‘Nocturnal’ series (which recently saw the publication of its third installment), Villimey Mist has something a little different on offer in her new short story, ‘The Banquet’.
When Maria receives a mysterious invitation to an exclusive event known only as ‘The Banquet’, she isn’t quite sure what to expect. The people she knows who have attended before have been sworn to secrecy, but insist that it is an invitation she should not turn down.
Dressed up for a night out with the high society, Maria soon realizes that she shares a past trauma with the women in attendance, and the entertainment on the menu offers a chance of cathartic revenge.
This was my first introduction to the author and although this is only a small taste (the story clocks in at 37 pages, plus a short but enlightening Authors Note at the end) I was impressed at how engaging the story was and how much Mist managed to fit into such a short tale. The level of world-building on display is remarkable for such a brief tale and, conceptually at least, it’s a very well realised and executed story.
The pacing is equally excellent and the first half of the short is all about setting the scene and building up the tension. Time is dedicated to introducing us to Maria and the concept of the titular Banquet. The event itself is shrouded in mystery from the very first page and the reader is teased with subtle hints and suggestions at some of the things in store for Maria should she decide to go. The time spent building up the intrigue as to where the story may be going is time well spent, and I can honestly say I was gripped from page one and excited to see where things went.
When all is revealed as the purpose of the Banquet is made clear, it is a shocking revelation, despite the increasingly overt clues as to its nature as things move along. We, the reader, are kept in the dark along with Maria until the big reveal and we experience this along with her. While Maria is initially stunned, she does gradually come round to the idea and, while the reader is wondering quite how far Mist is going to take things, Maria is wondering whether she would be capable of being involved in the nights show herself, should the opportunity present itself.
We get the answers in the story’s final pages, in a sequence that will linger in your head long after you’ve put the book down. Mist has clearly done her research for this big finale and the gleefully creative and horrifying images she conjures in the final few pages are intense but liberating, grim and violent enough to satisfy even hardcore horror fans.
I enjoyed The Banquet enough that I would have liked a little more. It is such a strong concept, and so well executed, that I would have enjoyed a bit of additional time spent in this world that Mist has created. I think a little more time with Maria early on in the story to allow us to get to know her a little better, counterbalanced with some additional focus on the attendees of the Banquet in the latter half of the book, would have gone a long way. I hope that the author revisits the world of the Banquet at some point, as there feels like there are stories that could still be told. I would love to read something focused on Rowan and the organisers, and a look into how, and why, they do what they do.
Overall, I had a great time reading The Banquet. Its intriguing set-up and deft pacing setting up a truly horrific finale with a particularly memorable set-piece that is most certainly not for the squeamish. The story juggles some heavy themes and delivers a larger-than-life story whilst never losing sight of its timely message. While the story itself is a fictionalized cathartic outlet, it does address real-world issues and, at the time of writing, the proceeds from the sales of this short are being donated to Stígamót, a counselling centre set up in Reykjavic, Iceland to help survivors of sexual violence. Visit their website to learn more about the work they are doing and see where your money is being donated when purchasing your copy of The Banquet.