SHAULA

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Ben is an agent of the Mycelia Sterilia Society, an organization so secretive even he rarely understands the purpose of his work. On his current mission, he’s been partnered with a more experienced operative known by a colorful assortment of pseudonyms—though Ben chooses to just call him Grim. They have been tasked with transporting a mysterious package the size and shape of a cooler to the failing lakeside town of Eidercrest—but Ben’s real mission is to keep an eye on Grim and report back any unusual behavior. The package is to be delivered to Radney Atwood, a “specialist” who lives in a lonely cabin on the lake. Ben and Grim make their delivery, but when it becomes clear that Atwood has been in contact with other parties, the organization orders the two operatives to remain in town and keep an eye on him. Eidercrest offers plenty of secrets to keep Ben’s mind busy, from the strange religious commune that has recently taken up residence in some of the abandoned properties to the supposed monster that Grim believes to be the topic of Atwood’s research. It all turns out to be much more complicated—and dangerous—than Ben bargained for, particularly when he and Grim run afoul of Thane, the commune’s leader, who has taken an interest in Atwood’s work. As friction between the two agents festers, Ben decides to take some initiative and infiltrate the commune on his own, which works well—until it doesn’t. He must keep his wits about him if he’s to solve the riddles of Grim, Atwood, Thane, and the very organization that employs him—or simply to survive the mission at all.

In this sequel, Kherbash’s prose is sparse and spooky, slowly bringing the tension to a boil: “Things grew quiet, and all Ben could hear” as he raised “his head was water gently lapping the wooden raft. Even the crowd lining the shore could not be heard. In the eerie stillness, and in his temporary blind state, the odor of slimy water was all he could perceive.” The author withholds information in a way that maximizes the suspense, leaving readers to piece together just what sort of world this is and who within it can be trusted. The characters are perhaps a bit more transparent than they should be—rarely does anyone do anything that is truly surprising. Kherbash offers readers chapters from Grim’s point of view, which has the unfortunate effect of demystifying the man. That said, Ben’s attempts to unpack all that surrounds him are a suitable engine for the plot, and the evocative setting and slightly Lovecraft-ian atmosphere add to the experience. The result is a highly compelling mix of horror and mystery that will keep the audience engaged even if the ultimate reveals are not quite as big (or as satisfying) as those that the author cultivates in readers’ imaginations.

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