Fathom: An entertaining horror novel once it gets going

fantasy book reviews Cherie Priest Fathomfantasy book reviews Cherie Priest FathomFathom by Cherie Priest

Fathom is an entertaining horror novel once it gets going. Cherie Priest spends the first 100 pages of Fathom setting a scene, complete with pages upon pages of infodumps. One character will tell another character a story about a third character, for instance, or a character will have a prolonged recollection of a scene from his past. In addition, the time in which the novel is set does not become apparent until the last few chapters of the novel. A reader could easily conclude that the novel is set in the present day until the last 50 pages or so, when suddenly that appears not to be so, and all that has gone before must be reassessed. The Cherie Priest of Fathom does not seem to be the assured writer who turned out the superior Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

Priest starts her story (after a short initial chapter that has no meaning until much later in the book; really a prologue) with two strongly contrasting characters, Nia and Bernice. We learn quickly that the latter young woman is a spoiled rich kid with pronounced overtones of extreme violence, while the former is a poor kid up from the farm who finds herself in over her head, both literally and figuratively, very quickly. It isn’t long before Bernice is in the arms of Arahab, a water witch, and Nia is turned into stone, a decorative figure in the garden of the home that was to have been her residence for a summer’s visit.

Arahab has plans for which she needs Bernice and Jose Gaspar, a sea pirate from eighteenth-century Spain. She wants to waken the long-sleeping Leviathan, which she hopes will destroy the modern human world and bring the old gods back to their prominence. Bernice and Gaspar are set loose in the world in order for Bernice to savor her new-found immortality and the free rein she has been given to inflict as much damage on humans as she likes. That is not their only purpose on land, however, for they have a task to accomplish to aid Arahab in her quest. This requires a trip to see Mr. Poppo, a metalworker with pronounced similarities to the god Vulcan, in Ybor City, Florida.

Another elemental has plans for Nia; she will not spend the rest of her life as sentient stone. For a time she is an object of worship to those who apparently think that she is a representation of Arahab — and who think, as well, that Arahab is interested in their worship. With the help of Sam, an insurance fire investigator, the nameless elemental “hatches” Nia to a new life in order that she might stop Arahab.

Once all the characters are gathered in Ybor City, this novel really begins to cook. Suddenly the story, which had been composed of exposition and conversation with random bursts of action, becomes all action — and dramatic, high-tension action at that. This is the point at which the underpinnings of the novel start to make sense, and a devoted reader will now find it hard to set this novel aside without finishing it.

One gets the impression that Fathom could have benefited from a final rewrite. Priest has what it takes to write original, exciting horror, as the last half of this novel demonstrates. Moving the characters into place, though, poses a difficulty for Priest here. It will be interesting to read her next book to see whether she can pull together her considerable skills for a truly consistent, frightening story.

Fathom — (2008) Publisher: Before God created the earth as we know it, the planet was home to a race of monsters. In order to prepare for humans, He either banished or killed most of these natives creatures; but those who remain in exile have not forgotten. One ancient tale encourages their vengeance, speaking of an angel with the power to wipe out a quarter of the world’s population. Together, the old ones form a plot to catch this being and use him to reassert their reign. But not every prophecy is a promise. Scattered throughout the globe a handful of unwilling heroes are preparing to intervene. One of these sits frozen in stone, mistaken for a statue and abandoned in a courtyard for eighty years. Though Nia finds it difficult tobelieve, that strange prison was her rescue — a cocoon that transformed and protected her until her story could truly begin. Fathom is an unapologetic mix of horror and urban fantasy that will appeal to fans of both genres. The resulting book is a sexy biblical monster story that will hold the attention of readers who appreciate a good fairy tale with an unusual point of view.

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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  1. I don’t know if I could endure 100 pages before a book becomes interesting to me..that is very hard.

  2. I have a sort of weird reading disorder that compels me to finish virtually every single book I start. Sometimes it pays off; most of the time it doesn’t. In this case I’m rather glad I finished the book, as I consider Cherie Priest to be an up-and-comer over all. But you’re right, asking anyone to read 100 pages before a book becomes interesting is asking too much.

  3. Terry, I used to have that disorder, too. Want to know what cured me? It was working on this website and realizing how many books I need to read before I die. If a book hasn’t grabbed me in a reasonable amount of time, or if there were problems that are insurmountable, I give it the good ‘ol Did Not Finish! Too many books, too little time! … (but in this case I’m glad Fathom paid off!)

  4. You would think that reasoning would work on me, especially given the size of my growing TBR piles. I realized the other day that I’ll probably only read another 3,000 to 5,000 books in my remaining life (even assuming I have 30 years coming) — and I already own a good 9,000 books I haven’t read yet!

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