CANDY, BLOOD AND SEX, by Hydra M. Star, with cover and interior illustrations by Dave Lipscomb, is a pretty neat little horror novella, the kind of story that would be a perfect match for a really good, serious indie horror film. I will tell you right off the bat that this is a very sexually graphic and bloody tale of lust, jealousy, rage, and murder. It begins with a dark, fairy tale feel to it, like a creepy reboot of Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel. And it retains that otherworldly, dream-like quality all throughout.
We first meet the main character, Scarlet, when she's a little girl. One day, while Scarlet's family is camping in the woods, she and her mother see what they think is a bear. Later, Scarlet's entire family is horribly murdered, but she is spared for a reason we won't find out about until later in the story. Scarlet then goes to live with her grandmother, and over the years she is watched over by more than just grandma's big eyes. Years pass and Scarlet, now an adult, comes home one day to find her grandmother has been murdered in the same ghastly manner as were her parents. And while Scarlet once again escapes the claws and fangs of death, she is abducted and taken in by a weird family who are part of a strange community of even stranger people. A young man named Gib watches over Scarlet, teaching her about his family and the others who live in this eerily idyllic community, a place originally founded long ago by runaway slaves and Native Americans who had been displaced by the white man. Gib is an alpha male, a leader of the pack in this village of strange outcasts. He has been watching over Scarlet since she was a child, watching her grow into a beautiful and desirable young woman -- a woman he wants for his own. And when he takes her, he makes her a full-fledged member of his clan and community through a terrifying and unholy initiation that involves violence, blood, and gang rape. (I told you, this is a very graphic story.)
The story then twists and turns as Scarlet is allowed to recover, allowed to heal. But all through her convalescence Gib is there . . . watching, waiting, seducing her little by little. As time drags on for Scarlet and the horrific reality of her situation sets in, she learns that Gib, his family, and their entire community are much more than a pack of sexual sadists. They may look human and have human needs, but they have other needs, as well, and those needs have teeth, for inside the skins of these people lies something bestial, something primitive and inhuman. In a bizarre play on Patty Hearst and the whole Stockholm Syndrome thing, where a victim of kidnapping begins to sympathize with their abductors, Scarlet gradually falls in love with Gib, which causes her to suffer a conflict of emotions for her when she discovers that he had butchered and slaughtered her family. What happens after that becomes a grim tale of savage love and lust versus rage and revenge. It's a tale of human against inhuman, of the natural and the supernatural as ancient Native American legends turn out to be very alive and very well, and very, very real.
This short novel hits the ground running right from the get-go, then continues to pick up steam and rushes along like a locomotive. There isn't much characterization in the first part, but after Scarlet has been with Gib's pack for awhile, her character emerges and we see her gradually grow from a weak and helpless victim to a strong mistress of her own fate. As for Gib . . . at first he comes across as fairly kind and decent, but slowly emerges as a pretty nasty character. Hydra M. Star manages to do a nice balancing act between Scarlet and Gib, as we learn who is really the master and who is the slave. I won't go into the negatives about this story because they are too few, in my opinion, to mention. I will say that the story could have benefitted from a stronger first act, with more of a build-up of character, and a slightly slower pace. A few foreshadowing events in Scarlet's childhood before her parents are killed, and the same for her later years prior to her grandmother's murder would have added tension and a growing dread leading up to her abduction. Both the full-color cover art and the black and white interior illustrations by Dave Lipscomb have a grotesquery about them that is perfectly suited to the story. They remind me of the classic EC horror comics, and Creepy and Eerie magazines. All in all, I enjoyed this unique horror tale, and I give it 4 out of 5 stars. Check it out. It's available in paperback and Kindle editions.