ARC review, book review, horror

31 Days of Horror: The Portal by Russell James

Released today from Flame Tree Press, a dark tale about the devil seeking to open a door to hell on the quiet island of Stone Harbor.

Every three hundred years, Satan has a chance to open a hell mouth on the island of Stone Harbor. His attempt failed in the eighteenth century, but you can’t keep a demon down, and he’s back to try again in the twenty first.

Scott Tackett returned to Stone Harbor to run the family hardware business after the death of his father. He’s delighted to run into his high school girlfriend, actress and recovering addict, Allie Layton, who has also recently returned home. However, neither of them are too happy about having to save their town from the devil.

With the sides clearly drawn, will the forces of light prevail over the forces of darkness?

There is so much I loved about this book. James writes well, introducing the central plot from the start. It’s a great opening to the book, and the pace keeps up through to the end.

The characters are well drawn and exist as realistic, believable people. Even the smallest side character is portrayed as a real human being. The characters choices in life are shown to great effect in why they have arrived in Stone Harbor at that place and time, and the role of suffering and temptation is well described. The depiction of Allie’s struggle with addiction appealed to me particularly.

The sleepy, good natured island of Stone Harbor is almost a character in itself, and it was a fitting place for a showdown between good and evil. I’m a fan of epic battles taking place in the least likely environment, and it made sense that Stone Harbor would make a good place to hide a portal to hell.

The depiction of Lucifer as a suave, well dressed, smart talking salesman is always interesting, and I enjoyed the world building that the author put into the character of his devil, his powers and his cronies. It was enjoyable and suitably horrible.

It was nice to see a good reverend in the book, and I loved the earnest cop, Milo. In a world filled with books and movies where heroes have fist fights with demons, it was refreshing to read how the good characters set out to defeat the devil in The Portal. However, I was disappointed at the lack of the supernatural world building, when the preternatural background was so strong, which resulted in a major plot point not making sense to me.

There also seemed to be a tonal disparity between the first and second halves of the book. The first half is very dark, with pedophilia, among other subjects, showing how evil the devil and his followers were.

The second half seemed to take a more tongue in cheek approach to evil, with sly nods to humor, and Satan appearing as almost comedic. Perhaps it was my twisted sense of humor, but I found the description of a death in the latter part of the novel so manipulative and implausible that I laughed. I would have preferred if the author had kept to the darker tone of the first half of the book. The change in tone made some of the scenes in the beginning of the book come across as exploitive.

This was so close to a five star read for me. It had all of the elements that I love in a good book. Unfortunately, both Scott and Allie condone actions that are, by their nature wrong, because they support the good intentions of the person performing that action. I wouldn’t mark the book down if this had been explored or shown to make matters worse, but the author supports their decisions. In a book about resisting temptation, standing up for the truth and seeking redemption for past wrongs, this disappointed me.

I award The Portal

The Portal is available for $6.65 ebook, $14.95 print book and $24.95 hardback on Amazon.

I received a free copy from Flame Tree Press through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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