The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror, Vol 11, No 2 (2008)

Review: Gossamer Hall

Gossamer Hall

Review © 2008 Garvan Giltinan

Gossamer Hall
Erin Samiloglu
© 2007, Medallion Press

Juan Fuentes has a remarkable ability. According to the ancient Indian Monhu tribe, the ability is called "Wjurnu." Supposedly, Wjurnu allows an individual to make things appear with just a thought. Juan, who has always acutely felt his difference — with a little support and reinforcement from his mother — sees himself as a freak of nature. However, Juan is now getting his life back on track by getting an education at Brookhaven, a small Presbyterian College in Texas. Unfortunately, he is taking classes with bitter and rancorous professor Hastings. As the novel opens, we find that Hastings, a history expert specializing in 19th century outlaw and mass murderer Mack "Mad" Maron, has discovered Juan's little magical secret and sees an opportunity that will, literally, keep his research alive. Hasting's plan is to use Juan, and his fellow classmates, in a ritual which will conjure Mad Maron's treasure map into existence and so finally discover the location of the outlaw's buried cache.

Within the first eight chapters, we are also given insight into the lives and secrets of the other students in Juan's class. The group of misfits and outcasts straddle that fine line between archetype and stereotype: Lars, the man with the violent and bloody past trying to make a future for himself; Reagan, a woman recovering from the death of a child, a death she blames on herself; Lily, the beauty with a dark secret from a past she wants to forget; Mark, the computer and science geek who has befriended Juan; and of course, the collection wouldn't be complete without the two jocks, Josh and Caleb, both of whom have had run-ins with administration for violations involving marijuana and steroid abuse.

Hastings' resurrection scheme — as if we couldn't have guessed — goes awry. Instead of a treasure map, Juan resurrects the rotting corpse of Maron and his equally wasting cronies. The electrical power fails and Gossamer Hall is plunged into an unsettling darkness. Juan has a seizure, goes into a coma and wakes up in what can only be described as the subconscious realm, which he navigates for the remainder of the narrative. In the real world, the other students must fight for survival as Mad Maron and his gang of fellow psychopaths are awakened from their slumber and immediately embark on a gleeful spree of slaughter, dispatching students with violence and witty one-liners.

Gossamer Hall reads like a low-budget slasher flick from the Dimension films stable. Or maybe an even cheaper company: Shock-O-Rama, anyone? The creepy, cliché-driven narrative unwinds with few surprises and a fair smattering of visually visceral moments, none of which would be out of place in a Freddy Krueger movie. However, despite this, I found myself pleasantly pulled along, turning the pages and enjoying the experience nonetheless. What works in the novel's favor is the pacing of the narrative, which moves at a relentless clip. In fact, the novel plays out very much like English horror veteran Shaun Hutson's early bloody and violent supernatural thrillers: No exhaustive philosophical diversions or profound revelations about life here to weigh down the action.

To be honest, even the clichés help the story. The setup and execution of Gossamer Hall follows a pretty well-worn path with regard to story telling — particularly regarding visual narrative and horror movie conventions. Characters are introduced, their basic flaws established, and they are subsequently separated (either as individuals or in smaller groups) and picked off one-by-one in a violent manner — the more creative the better, of course. Give the fanboys what they want. Samiloglu dutifully adheres to these conventions while injecting her characters with just enough dimension to bring them to life for the brief time they are with us.

I do wish, however, that Gossamer Hall had been realized in a more visual way. We are never given a full enough description of its gothic architecture to sufficiently imbue the building with the requisite menace. Some of the coincidences are also a little convenient: a descendent of Mad Maron taking classes in the college at the same time Professor Hastings decides to pursue his nefarious plans being one. There is also the confusing matter of how the resurrected outlaws know the main characters' deepest, darkest secrets. Despite these plot holes, Samiloglu's novel is a surprising and entertaining distraction. A guilty pleasure. A comfort food. And I look forward to reading more of the author's works.


The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM