It’s difficult to believe that this is a debut novel as it was not only addictive and gripping but also incredibly well-written. This was a riveting supernatural thriller/horror novel full of suspense, twists, and tension that takes place in a creepy small town with quite an assortment of fascinating characters.
As Joel begins to investigate his brother’s disappearance, he unearths a plethora of painful memories — memories he thought he’d left behind him after being shamed out of town ten years prior for being gay — and he ends up exposing the town’s darkest secrets. But Joel wants answers and is willing to do whatever it takes to get them — even if it puts his life in jeopardy.
As he gets closer to the truth, it eventually becomes clear that the town itself is responsible for the evil goings-on in Bentley with a frightening urban legend at the heart of it all. I actually thought that this was going to be a small-town mystery story, so I was a bit gobsmacked when the horror and supernatural elements came into play – though I will say pleasantly surprised.
Think you have it figured out? Think again! And that’s what I enjoyed about the story — how unpredictable it was. I was a bit surprised, though, when the story went super dark and took on an overall sense of foreboding, hints of menace, and the general feeling that something was off. What we end up with, then, is a razor-witted, intense, and brutal look at the modern human condition – a tale of twisted narratives fueled by obsession, resulting in a tense and unsettling read. This book is a serpentine tale of betrayal, madness, and murder.
But interestingly, it’s also about casting off shame and stigma. At its core, it’s a novel rooted with human failings: the dangers of bigotry and close-mindedness of our own society leading to many of the characters facing insurmountable demons — demons resulting from the suppression of the self and the suppression of others. There is definitely a deeper story within these pages, and parts of it speak to the divisiveness of the world in which we live.
Additionally, the author explores several other important themes in the story: sexuality, religion, betrayal, drugs, predation, complicated family dynamics, racism, conformity, and the confusion that coming of age can bring along with it.
I liked how the story was told several alternating POVs, allowing us to see the events through multiple lenses and perspectives. Though there are several pivotal events in the story, at its heart Bright Lands is a character-driven story where every character has something to hide. All their stories come together to weave a dark and intricate tale that draws you in until the very end. What we end up with is a pitch-dark, terrifying story that explores what we’re capable of when our backs are against the wall.
I will say, however, that The Bright Lands is a disturbing novel with graphic content, so it may not be appropriate for more sensitive readers.
All in all, this was an edge-of-your-seat page-turner that kept me guessing until the explosive ending, and though it wasn’t quite what I expected, I enjoyed the wild ride it took me on.