From Dark Regions Press comes The Eighth, Stephanie Wytovich’s debut novel. A contemporary horror tale, the story follows soul-collector Paimon who is in service to the Devil. The job is simple; go to Earth, convince the mark to commit grievous sins, then reap the bounty.
Yet Paimon’s loyalties are turned upside-down after being charged with collecting Rhea, a tortured woman locked in an abusive relationship. As he twists Rhea’s mind towards vengeance against her cheating boyfriend, the soul-collector makes an egregious mistake. Consumed by regret for killing his wife Marissa long ago, he ends up falling in love with his charge.
And by saving Rhea’s life, Paimon betrays the Devil’s trust. Yet this is not just a personal struggle, but a political one. Paimon soon discovers himself bowing to the Seven Sins, who covet dominion over the fallen angel’s domain.
Although marked as a horror novel, Wytovich borrows hints of other genres to build something unique. Divided into three parts of roughly fifteen chapters, the first section was more horror-romance and psychological. Particularly, the third chapter flirted with a powerful hook as it discussed some of Paimon’s techniques for manipulating his victims. These “tools of the job” would have been an awesome point of story-telling all on their own.
The second and third parts were more horror-fantasy as they took place primarily in Hell. Here the author does a very strong job of world-building. Our normal understanding of Hell paints it as metaphysical place, not bound by the usual laws of reality. But Wytovich hints at something more understandable, something strangely more realistic. That demons too require sustenance, and some punishments are far more permanent than others.
That ultimately, Hell has a kind of an economy.
Regarding the meta-game of publishing, the timing of this novel feels rather fortuitous. The last few years have seen a massive resurgence in the popularity of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Eldritch horror is beloved, but has left other sub-genres somewhat ignored lately. The Eighth fills a niche for the introspection that comes with Christian dogma, and a sense of personal, existential horror.
That point may bring us to the only possible weakness with the book. Sometimes the characters’ introspections become “rabbit holes” that are too deep. The beginning chapters are filled with emotional pangs that, when explained, become lengthy backstories. These details are packed with strong character development, but their depth risks upsetting the book’s pace. Middle and later chapters naturally progress beyond this issue however.
Ultimately, The Eighth is a strong debut novel that scratches an itch in horror fans. And for those tiring of the Cthulhu mythos, it comes highly recommended.