book review, horror

31 Days of Horror: Hellward by James Sale

As Tolkien sought to write a modern English mythology, so Sale seeks to write a Divine Comedy for our time.

Inspired by the author’s real life suffering and near death experience while undergoing treatment for cancer, Sale uses Dante as his guide through the 12 wards of hell.

Written in the Italian style of a three line stanza, Hellward is both deeply personal to the author – he encounters friends and family on his journey – as well as broaching deeper philosophical truths that will speak to all people.

The first in a planned trilogy, Hellward takes us into the depths of the underworld before the author can ascend towards heaven through the rough slopes of purgatory.

As Sale shares intimate moments in Hellward, I must share something personal to explain how deeply this book moved me.

I was brought up to appreciate poetry as the greatest of the art forms (something I grumbled about as I felt it was disloyal to my favorite, prose fiction). While I dabbled with writing it as a child, I can’t claim any skill. Throughout my teenage years, I studied poetry, both as a reader and performer, and I was drawn most closely to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shakespeare’s sonnets and, of course, Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The fact that Sale seeks to write an English version of Dante’s masterpiece in our atheistic times fills me with such joy, such excitement and delight, it is almost impossible for me to express how much I’m fangirling out about this volume.

This is a multilayered tale. To start with its name, Hellward, which has so many different meanings. Sale models his journey around his hospital stay, with each new ward representing a deeper layer of hell. Of course, it can also be read as going forward into hell, or even as a warning or protection against falling into hell for those who read and heed its message.

The layers continue on through each canto. This is a deeply personal journey, full of Sale’s autobiographical experiences, as well as his opinions and beliefs. However, there is a universal truth to many, if not all, of the cantos that will spark emotion and self reflection in the heart of the reader. Points that Sale raises will fuel much philosophical discussion in those who seek to probe deeper into the meaning and relevance of the author’s journey in our current era, and last, but not least, the narrative drive of this book makes for some very entertaining reading. Filled with horror and occasional touches of humor, it will keep you engrossed simply to find out what happens next.

As a bonus, there is a brief interview with the author at the end of the book, giving more insight into Sale and his motivations for tackling such an ambitious project. The man comes across just as fascinating and multilayered as his poetry.

I eagerly await following Sale’s journey as he navigates purgatory (which might take place in the hospital chapel) and heaven (the hospital’s duck pond).

I award Hellward

Hellward is available for $2.55 ebook and $10.02 print book on Amazon.

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