Bloody horror in the Appalachian wilderness. Groovy.
Have you ever seen the Wrong Turn movies? That fun-to-binge horror film franchise with 10 sequels about a cannibalistic family in the hills of West Virginia? Those films have nothing on the mind of Ania Ahlborn, and the bloody Appalachian horror she created in 2015’s Brother.
Ahlborn hails from Poland but currently lives in South Carolina with her family. She’s a prolific horror and thriller writer with an impressive bibliography – her 11th title is soon to be released. Other popular works of Ahlborn’s include The Bird Eater, I Call Upon Thee, and Within These Walls. She began her career as a self-published author with 2011’s Seed, which eventually reached #1 in Horror on Amazon and landed the author a multi-book deal. And thanks to that deal, we were given Brother.
The Morrow family lives a simple life in rural Appalachia – if you consider kidnapping, dismembering, and eating young women as ‘simple’. Michael is a normal teenager, wondering if there is more to life than his gruesome reality. Movies, girls, Big Macs. His overbearing, tyrannical mother and domineering bully of a brother make sure he rarely sees life beyond their personal hell. His attachment to his little sister Misty Dawn makes him weary about running away to see for himself… if he could outrun his brother, that is.
Michael’s been told time and time again that there’s nothing in the world for him outside of the Morrow way of life. No one wants him but the Morrow’s – and even with them, he’s on thin ice.
Why does Michael’s brother Rebel hate him so much? Why is he such a relentless bully, reminding Michael of how worthless and unloved he is? That’s one of the greatest mysteries of this family story, and Ahlborn expertly plants the seeds leading to the reveal of why Rebel has hated Michael for the majority of his life. When the truth of Michael’s origins and Rebel’s disdain for him is revealed, the shock is palpable. The reader is left breathless, hopeless, utterly disheartened. But, don’t worry. It gets better. Rebel takes Michael out into town. Rebel lets Michael talk to girls, see a movie. Get a Big Mac. And then, things get worse. Oh, holy hell, do they get worse.
If you want to feel dirty, grimy, hopeless and lost, this book is for you. Sick and bloody imagery aside, it’s a roller coaster of emotion right up until the insane, movie-worthy finale. Dread truly drips from every page as you wait for the other shoe to drop. What will be Rebel’s breaking point? When with the Morrow’s killing end? Will Michael ever find happiness away from the only wretched life he has ever known? Only one way to find out.
If I’m being 100% honest (which I always am), I almost DNF’d this book because of the overwhelming despair alone. I love horror movies (even the Wrong Turn franchise), and I love horror books, but Ahlborn paints such a gruesome and tragic picture of a rural hellscape that truly left a rotten taste in my mouth every time I closed the book. I had to talk myself into finishing it because I was rooting for Michael, silently begging for him to escape his miserable existence. It’s also toeing the line of splatter horror (think torture-porn films like anything Eli Roth has ever made, Hostel, etc.) which is totally not my gig, at all. Most of the gore is subtle but Ahlborn throws in a sick detail every now and then that just makes you say “ew”, or “Oh my God”, or “time to read Goosebumps to cleanse my palate and fend off the nightmares”. And, when I finished the book, the rotten taste in my mouth remained. For days. But… no spoilers.
Horrifying, thrilling, and truly mind-blowing when all of the nasty pieces come together, Brother showcases the depths of human depravity and just how thick blood is when compared to water.
3 stars overall, 4 stars on the scare-scale.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.
All other images are certified public domain.