I am a big fan of Paul Kane’s work. I absolutely loved his Sherlock Holmes/Cenobite mash-up novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell. So much so it featured in my top 10 reads for 2016. Going into Before, my expectations were pretty big and when I heard Kane had teamed up with Grey Matter Press for this epic dark fantasy/horror novel my interest was immediately piqued. I knew prior to starting this that it is a big book and there is always a niggling doubt that a novel so long might be a little bit of a slog to get through. To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I don’t read as much fantasy fiction anymore. I still enjoy the genre a great deal, but the length of these novels is often an issue for this reader. Does it really need to be 500+ pages long AND part of a trilogy?
Anyway, I digress, I’m here to tell you, dear reader, of my thoughts about Paul Kane’s new novel, Before. For starters, the cover art by Dean Samed is wonderful. Looking at it makes me think this will be a story taking place over a substantial amount of time, with two sides locked in a battle of good vs evil, perhaps a hero will arise and face-off against a dark enemy?
Before gets off to a great start and I was pulled into the story immediately as we delve into the past, 1970s Germany to be exact. It gives us a glimpse into how long the cycle of events forthcoming has been going on and it sets the foundations for a novel of epic proportions! The book’s antagonist is called The Infinity. Very early on I’m thinking back to King’s The Stand and one man in particular: Randall Flagg! The Infinity has been around for years, pulling the strings of his puppets to assist him in reaching his end goal. In the earlier parts of the book, The Infinity exists on the periphery, an ominous presence lurking in the background, though one capable of unspeakable acts of evil. He is a really, really great character though one I felt was a little underused, especially early in the book. The Infinity doesn’t work alone. He has an ally, someone he controls called Lucas Peck. Peck is a violent murderer. A murderer that likes to create his ‘art’ by torturing and pulling apart his victims, decorating the walls with their insides! I know Kane is a massive fan of Clive Barker and I definitely got a Cenobite vibe from this character and I loved it!
On the other side, we have the protagonist, Alex Webber, a lecturer and a bit of a sad sack if I’m being honest. The flame of love between himself and ex-wife Beverly has long since extinguished and she now only seems to exist as a bit of an annoyance. Add to this the fact that Webber is plagued by visions of the past: visions of death and destruction that are horrific and realistic, resulting in further stress on his already taut relationships. It’s safe to say that things aren’t going too well for Alex Webber. But what do these visions of the past mean to Webber? And who is the mysterious man with the bright blue eyes? All these questions are answered as the pieces of Kane’s puzzle slowly fall into place. There are other characters too like Psychiatrist Ellen Hayward, another key figure in the story. All are pretty well-drawn by Kane, though it’s The Infinity that shines brightest.
Kane’s Before could make a great movie, or an even better Netflix series! It’s an absorbing and engaging read, ambitious in both lengths and in its ideas. At over 450 pages I found it a little too long. The book’s end of days style concept means I am always going to compare it to The Stand and Swan Song, perhaps unfairly, as these are two of my favourite stories. Both are similarly long, complex, and feature a scenario where the world’s future hangs in the balance. Kane’s tale is similar and very well executed though Webber didn’t quite resonate as strongly as certain characters from those books. However, Before does feature a cast of solid characters and a fascinating plot that spans decades, The Infinity is a great villain and I’d be very happy to read about him again. The action scenes are exciting, the dialogue is smooth and the ending to Before is worth the wait. Kane’s latest novel is epic and King/McCammon fans will find a lot to like here. I can highly recommended this book and it is yet another tick in the box for Paul Kane and for Grey Matter Press.
4/5 apocalyptic visions from the Grim Reader.
Pick up a copy from here.