Fox Spirit Press and Shadows by Joan De La Haye *Spoiler Alert!*

In December I received an email from the lovely folks at Fox Spirit, independent e-book publishers, who asked me if I would like to review some of their titles on this here blog. I said yes, of course and they gave me full access to their super secret library of review copies (the fools!).

Fox Spirit describe themselves as such:

‘Fox Spirit believes that day to day life lacks a few things, like the fantastic, the magical, the mischievous, even a touch of the horrific. We aim to rectify that bringing you e-books from people who believe, as we do, that we could all do with a little more of those.’

I tend to agree, so I decided to start off my reviewing foray with Shadows by South African author Joan De La Haye, as I had previously reviewed her zombie novella Oasis and had liked what I read.

Shadows is the tale of Sarah, a vulnerable young woman, who begins suffering what appears to be a nervous breakdown after the suicide of her father. She begins to hallucinate, seeing things that may or may not be real. To top things off, her sometimes boyfriend Kevin, is a complete douchebag and exacerbates her anxiety by being a cheating, hedonistic scumbag and generally a bit of a controlling narcissist.

Kevin, is having an affair with Denise, who in turn, is in a relationship with Kevin’s sister Carol. Bit confusing, right? But it’s an elaborate scheme plotted by the two women to take revenge on Kevin, for his inaction regarding the sexual abuse of his sister by their uncle when they were children.

In the meantime, Sarah is being ignored by Kevin and suffers from increasingly bizarre hallucinations and visits from a yellow-eyed man-demon, who taunts her about her father’s death.

Eventually, encouraged by the man-demon, Sarah stabs Kevin, though not fatally, and ends up sectioned in a bleak psychiatric unit where she lies in a catatonic state, communicating with the man-demon (whom she has christened Jack) telepathically. Jack offers to end her suffering if she kills herself, plunging her into nightmarish scenarios Sarah cannot escape from (primarily, as it’s all in her mind and she can’t move…) to encourage a decision, however she decides to remain strong. Sarah is raped by a sadistic doctor whilst at the unit and is saved, somewhat confusingly, by Jack, after forcing her out of her catatonic reverie to say ‘please’.

Kevin, Denise and Carol have been indulging in an incestuous ménage a trois, all part of the intricate revenge plot designed to drive Kevin mad and things start to fall apart for Kevin even further as he turns to booze and drugs in order to assuage his guilt regarding having sex with his own sister, and actually enjoying it…

The story develops further, some nasty things happen, and secrets about Sarah’s family are all unveiled in the dramatic climax. Suffice to say, the love triangle between Kevin, Denise and Carol does not end happily.

When I first started to read Shadows, I have to say that I found myself a little complacent. I found the narrative a little slow-going and I didn’t find myself caring too much about any of the characters. Sarah appeared to me as a bit self-obsessed and it goes without saying that I found misogynistic Kevin absolutely repulsive.

However, once the motivation of the characters became apparent, I found myself enjoying the book for what it was; a scary story with a hidden dimension; this being an examination into the devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse.

The characters are very messed up. Arguably, this can be traced back to the inaction of their respective parents in dealing with traumatic events in their childhoods. In Carol and Kevin’s case, a paedophile uncle and the fact that their mother knew what was happening yet did nothing, and for Sarah, the ambiguity surrounding her father’s bizarre behaviour and his later suicide. Even manipulative Denise harbours what she believes is a shameful secret.

The sexual violence in the book is hard to read but I think it contributes, overall, to an understanding behind the motivations of the characters and an insight into the victim-blaming we see so often in our media today; no-one believes the victims of sexual abuse in Shadows, therefore they are left to apply their own brand of justice.

Jack is a great anti-hero, a demon with all-too-human attributes. I think he represents what we all desire on a base level when we are wronged by other people: revenge. But, as Shadows shows, at what price?

Here is a lovely interview with the author Joan De La Haye by For Books’ Sake.

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