I discovered Ania Ahlborn by accident one day, perusing the shelves for my next horror read. I did what I normally do when I am itching for a new horror read but can’t decide: I head to the horror section, start at the A’s, and pick up the first book that I haven’t read or heard about yet. I don’t read a synopsis, don’t judge the cover, just blindly buy.
I have a love-hate relationship with this system of mine. I tend to be an indecisive person when it comes to books as there are so many great ones out there and my to read list is always about a million titles long. This way of choosing books at least gets me out of the bookstore when I’ve been staring at the shelves for a good hour. It also exposes me to books and authors that I may not have discovered otherwise. I’m an open-minded reader and not having any expectations about a book ahead of time is refreshing – it allows me to read without reviews bouncing around in my brain.
The flip side of this is that sometimes there are books that are little known for a reason. But hey, I like to read dangerously!
To my good fortune, on this particular trip to the bookstore, it was Brother by Ania Ahlborn that I picked up.
When I got the book home and took a closer look, at first glance it appeared to be a fairly standard, cookie cutter, hillbilly horror. As soon as I started reading, I knew that this was not the case.
Brother blew me away. It was dark and horrifying in a way that not a lot of horror is these days. It played on the reader’s expectations of how characters should act, and the loyalties that we feel to those around us. It was such an unexpected gem that not only did I immediately recommend it to all my horror loving pals, I went right out and bought all of the books by Ania Ahlborn that I could get my hands on.
The great thing about Ania Ahlborn’s books is that they all have a supernatural or horror element that the story is framed on, but that element is built on by the things happening to the regular people around them. Fractured families. Mental illness. Addiction. Marriage on the rocks. Strained relationships with children. These are all very real stressors that we can all relate to, either through personal experience or through the experiences of friends and family. She brilliantly uses these as a backdrop to enhance the tension of the horror elements. What makes her books so scary is how quickly things can spiral out of control, how our lives can be one thing one minute and something else entirely the next.
She is also not one to beat around the bush. Things get real, real quick. There are no hundred page descriptions of the meandering woods around a characters’ home to be found here. You are thrown into tension nearly immediately. Her use of language is spare, but very, very effective. You don’t need the build up of how a character became how they are. You immediately understand the why without feeling like you need the how, and the how is divvied out throughout the story as awesome character development. You don’t need a long drawn out explanation because you feel like you understand the characters’ state of mind very quickly. You are made to care about characters very early on in the story, before even knowing a lot of specifics about them, which is a rare talent.
Last, but certainly not least, is that she’s not afraid to go there. There are turning point moments that I will not describe here so as not to spoil the fun. In these moments, as a reader you reach a point in the story where you think, “Okay, but we know that won’t happen because horror novels don’t go there.” A paragraph later you’re curled up under your blanket after double checking all of your locks and turning all of your lights on and thinking, “Holy mother, she went there!” There are certain elements that are often not touched because if they are mishandled they can ruin the story. Ania Ahlborn, hats off to you for not being afraid to touch them – no mishandling to be found here!
The last Ania Ahlborn that I read was her latest novel, The Devil Crept In. As usual, she did not disappoint. The Devil Crept In is the story of a missing boy, Jude. His younger cousin, Stevie, is convinced that something more sinister than running away has happened to Jude and sets out to prove it. This story I felt had such a sad element to it. Both boys are troubled in their own ways, and their parents aren’t sure how to handle it. They are already labelled as beyond help by their small town, and I found it incredibly sad that Jude is very quickly branded as a runaway and good riddance to him, too.
She again paints the picture of these two fractured families quite brilliantly. The fact that these very adult issues are being told from Stevie’s perspective was a really interesting way to approach it, and really hits home how much kids absorb around them.
The story itself is fast paced. The build up of what is happening in the woods behind Stevie’s house is fantastic. About a third of the way into the novel, it switches gears to give us the story of Rosie, a woman who lives in a house in the woods. At first it is jarring, because it happens at a point where you are dying to know how this will all shake out. But then you are so drawn in to Rosie’s story that you are dying to know how the two tie together.
Overall, it is a great suspense that uses very subtle (and not-so-subtle) imagery to build a feeling of dread throughout the whole novel. Loved it! If you’re not reading Ania Ahlborn, you definitely should be!
If this little love fest has made you want to try out Ania Ahlborn, I have thoroughly enjoyed each one! Brother remains my favourite, so I would start there for a really original horror story. If you’re looking for dark, try Seed or Within These Walls.