The Void, by Teri A. Jacobs

the-void-by-teri-a-jacobs coverGenre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing Company
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Book Review by Paul Kane

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Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

So says the author blurb for Teri A. Jacobs, who lives by this wisdom – finding beauty in the mystery and madness of life… and death – and who loves nothing better than to delve into old mythologies in order to come up with something new. Which is exactly what she’s done for her first full-length novel, The Void, drawing on the gods and legends of ancient Mexico for her inspiration. So, has she succeeded in her mission to deliver something fresh, as well as spine-chillingly entertaining? We shall soon see….

Leslie Starr is a woman with a history. A professional photographer now working in the city, she still can’t escape from the terrors she experienced growing up at Elk Lake in Owenton. And the past is about to catch up with her big time, because when she hears about the death of an old friend called Charlotte, Leslie is forced to return to a home she ran away from years ago. Plagued by memories of her late father’s death, she returns to a family full of secrets, of inherited psychic abilities and something that happened between her and her stepfather before she fled. But that’s not the half of it…

Things have been unleashed in that small corner of America, terrible and dangerous things: demons and gods, in particular the entity known as Coatl. They slip between the dream world and our world, and some can also take over our bodies. As more of her friends are killed – the victims dragged off into this nether region to be sacrificed – it becomes clear that Leslie and her clan are at the heart of the mystery, a cousin who can remote view only adding to the mix. Now the lines between reality and fantasy are disappearing rapidly for Leslie, and she is told by Lone Wolf, a Mexican Indian, that’s she’s the only one who can stop all this. It’s up to her to seal this void that’s been created, travelling to Xibalba in order to do so. But does she have the strength and mental willpower, and will she make it back in one piece?

I have to get this out of the way first and say that I’ve read a fair few first novels in my time, but I haven’t read many that were quite so promising or refreshingly different as The Void. What makes it so is not just the character development, which is excellent – I really felt for Leslie as she was put through all these trials, and her interaction with her family and friends is naturalistic and believable. It’s not simply the plot, which does take familiar elements from other novels and stories (most notably Stephen King’s It, though obviously with lots of differences), but then adds the twist of these Mexican legends, nor is it because of the painstaking research that’s obviously gone into the book: you never once doubt anything Jacobs is saying about the demons or gods, their habitats, powers or origins. No, for my money it’s the brilliant and graphic descriptive work that fills many of the novel’s 348 pages.

I mean, just listen to this torture sequence: ‘Inch by agonizing inch of creamy skin came off wet and pink. The demons wrapped the fleshy bows around their tongues, and her blood dripped from their cavernous mouths like spit. Slathering tongues slurped in the stringy noodles of her flesh until her body lay on the sands, gleaming bright red, the pulp of her still screaming.’ Powerful stuff which builds up an undeniably effective mental picture. But it’s in the blending of hellish dreamscapes with normally safe locations that Jacobs really shines. Take, for instance, the lengthy finale that switches between a hospital and Leslie’s battles in the underworld; often blurring the lines between the two: ‘Chaos flowed through the room, like a corpse slow-floating in the ocean tides…The black terrors scuttling along the ceiling dropped down, steel-tipped kites descending, wings flared, fangs bared. Leslie cried out to warn the doctor as darkness settled upon him…’ With paragraphs like these, was there any wonder I couldn’t put the book down.

Teri A. Jacobs is apparently now working on her second novel, and if it’s as intense, satisfying and emotionally thrilling as her inaugural one then I hope she hurries up and finishes it soon. This is definitely not a book you should a-void.

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