Stranger Still, although a sequel, offers an engaging read to those unaware of the previous book, bringing energy and unpleasantness in spades.
Synopsis: Legion is a teacher. An avenging angel. A murderer.
Born in the blood of a dying mother, raised in the underground hideout of an insane father, he travels the world looking for those who keep secrets and sins. He finds those who have fallen short, and teaches them the lessons they need to leave their mistakes behind.
And if he has to teach a lesson that ends in death, well… sometimes that’s the cost of proper education.
That’s why, when he sees a man kidnap two people on the side of the road, Legion knows it is time to teach again.
Soon he finds himself caught in the crossfire of a coup in a Russian crime syndicate. Legion is captured, beaten, bleeding, in chains; cut off and alone.
It’s just the way he likes it.
Legion has his students. And the lessons are about to begin…
I previously reviewed author Michaelbrent Collings’ Scavenger Hunt a little while ago – you can find the review here. As in that work, Collings brings to life an ultra-violent story with plenty of energy. As already stated, Stranger Still is a sequel, but having not read the first novel I can assure you that this work stands comfortably on its own. Some characters take a bit more time to tune into and work out, but not so much that it detracts from the book,
The POV switches several times within the novel and this is used to great effect, obscuring important details to be drawn out later. By putting chapters into the inner voice of different characters we are introduced to the way they see the world first and this offers the opportunity to shift things later without feeling like the reader has been cheated.
Narcissistic hitman Sheldon, whose worldview is saturated by pop culture and an abusive mother figure is an undoubtedly frightening figure and being placed into his world view makes for frequently uncomfortable reading. All the characters are drawn together by past trauma (much of it through their own families) which creates a strange kinship between them. With a number of characters to balance, Collings does well to offer just enough detail about their lives without overselling and detracting too much from the narrative itself. The theme of pop culture as a guiding principle also forms part of Legion’s characterisation, managing to mention a variety of songs. I think this is the first name check The Lonely Island get in a horror novel!
There is a slight lag in the middle section of the book where there is an attempt to introduce too many characters who are largely introduced to be dispatched in a variety of inventive and wince-worthy ways. Of course, it is possible that these characters were introduced in the first novel and I’m missing some context and they were more important than I picked up on.
Overall, if you are looking for something gory, grim but energetic you should look to Stranger Still for your fix.
You can find Michaelbrent Collings’ GoodReads page here to keep up with his latest projects and purchase his current work.