James A. Moore,
Under the OverTree
(Meisha Merlin, 2000)

Horror fiction, like so many genres, is frequently dismissed because of the repetitiveness of themes that plague the genre. Sturgeon's law, of course, ensures that most "typical" vampire or post-apocalypse novels do more damage to the genre's reputation than good. But every once in a while, one of the top authors takes a classic plotline and tells a tale that makes you completely reconsider everything you know about the genre. James Moore's Under the OverTree is one such novel.

Moore's tale is a variation on the classic power-comes-with-puberty theme explored so well in Stephen King's Carrie and Bentley Little's Dominion, and which has become clichˇ thanks to the likes of John Saul. But Moore takes this classic theme and twists it in some truly unique ways, and his vision turns a familiar subject into one of the most original and enjoyable horror novels I've read.

Under the Overtree tells the story of Mark Howell, an awkward teenager who has just moved to the Colorado town of Summitville. He's not exactly the most socially adept teen anyway, and the local bullies are naturally drawn to him. And, of course, the beautiful girl of his dreams isn't. With the usual teen desires of revenge and sex, he's the perfect conduit for a supernatural force that wants revenge.

That's when Moore adds an urban fantasy (although, given the small-town location, count this as another argument for Windling's "mythic fantasy" term fazing out UF) layer to things, as, instead of the usual suspects -- the ghost of a witch, or a Manitou, or Satan -- we have the local Fae, awakened by the spilling of Mark's pure blood. They help Mark get all that he wants, as they groom him to be their instrument of revenge, eliminating anyone who gets in their way.

Although the various twists and turns are always enjoyable, what makes Moore's novel really shine is his ability to create intriguing and original characters. Mark is aided in his journey by P.J. Sanderson, a local horror author (tempting as it is to play guessing games here -- is Sanderson an avatar for Moore? Is he a nod towards a fellow author? -- Moore makes him a fully-realized character in his own right) and John Crowley, a magical troubleshooter who is the only one who knows how to defeat the Fae. The entire supporting cast, down to the last bully, is fully realized -- each of them is someone you could easily know (well, maybe not Crowley). The essence of a great horror novel is making sure that the characters encountering unbelievable situations are themselves believable, and Moore accomplishes this with craftsman's precision.

Jim Moore has come a long way since his early White Wolf days. With Under the OverTree, he has leapt into the forefront of the horror genre, establishing himself as a writer to be reckoned with. He has told one of the best horror stories of the last few years, and proven that a good author can turn a clichˇd plot into something truly special. Anyone looking for a change of pace from the typical horror novel would be well-rewarded by picking up this novel

[ by Adam Lipkin ]
Rambles: 30 June 2001

Buy it from Amazon.com.