Book Review: "The Fearing: Book One - Fire and Rain" (2019)
I’ll start this review with the first note I took while reading: “Holy shit, what an opening chapter. Just sat it down to catch my breath. Where has Taff been all my life?!”
I’m marking the occasion that I blew through the 92 pages that mark the first of four serial installments (a’la Stephen King’s “The Green Mile” release in 1996) by making sure that everyone knows what a gift has been given to us. I want you to hear this. I need you to hear this. It’s a great time to be a horror fan, sure- horror is hotter than it’s maybe ever been and there’s a lot of good stuff out there on the shelves and the screen. But this…this is different. One of the coolest things to see (as a fan or a critic) is when an artist finds that sweet spot right in the middle of the bat and just plain crushes it.
John F.D. Taff has utterly crushed it. I’m actually pissed I have to wait for another installment. Why must you do that to me?
“The Fearing - Fire and Rain” is the tale of a world falling before the power of all it’s worst fears. In New York City, Adam Sigel is living his life beset on all sides by every fear you can imagine- crowds, shopping, women, germs, terrorist attacks, doctors, you name it. He’s a human stereotype of fear and intimidation until one day strange things begin to happen to him. He’s having an effect on people that leads them to do terrible and murderous things. As their fears dominate his evaporate and a new sensation overtakes him- happiness. Something is being born that mankind isn’t ready for in the vessel of Adam. As the first wave engulfs the country, a group of teens in Missouri and a tour bus in the American Southwest are battling freakish tornadoes and even flying monkeys. And then there’s what happens next in NYC…….
I have to repeat: holy shit! Where has Taff been all my life?!
From the opening, you’re given characters who are altogether human and utterly relatable in extraordinary circumstances; they have a real heartbeat. That’s at the heart of a magic recipe for this kind of tale. Adam is menacing in his banality because you know he won’t be banal for very long and you doubt how much control or understanding he’s going to have over his dark gift. His relationship with the masochist cab driver, Jelnik, gets me a little giddy. There’s a Flagg/Trashcan Man quality there that will bring a huge smile to your face. The three Missouri teens (hunky Kyle, punky Sarah, and snotty Carli) are people you know regardless of your generation. The group of older folks on the desert tour (including a couple in their 80’s!) seem like easy prey if it weren’t for their driver, Rich. His mysterious past promises some real revelation.
Aside from the stellar characterization, Taff wants you to know that he’s got you by the short and curly hairs in his pacing. It’s viciously fast and unrelenting while still (almost miraculously) managing to let you settle into the players and the setting. Nothing feels rushed despite the scary pace.
And make no mistake about it- this shit is scary as hell. John F.D. Taff is as good here as Stephen King at his early best when it comes to tapping into the sense of fear that comes from an assault by the unknown coming in a completely new way. The vibe is very much that of the Master of the Macabre in his early days. I must admit that this is the first of Taff’s work that I’ve read. It won’t be the last.
“The Fearing: Book One - Fire and Rain” kicks the door open on a world that’s going to cause some serious sleepless nights and nasty daydreams. The first installment will knock you on your ass. I’d tell you to be more prepared than I was, but it ultimately won’t matter. Much like Jelnik, I’m a little aroused at the thought of the sheer abuse by fear that comes next.
Bring it on, Taff!