Bleed Away The Sky by Brian Fatah Steele
Publisher: Bloodshot Books | Release Date: Jan. 25, 2019 | Pages: 267
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Bleed Away the Sky is my first time reading the work of author Brian Fatah Steele, and I found this to be a mighty solid read, one that feels heavily influenced by Clive Barker and features a welcome dose of Girl Power throughout.
Audrey Darrow was left orphaned after her mother died in a car accident. Now, on a road-trip with her half-brother, she finds herself on the run from opposing forces that both want her dead. When her mother died, so too did the secrets of the the women’s bloodline and the power that kept Earth safe from multidimensional gods that would otherwise destroy our world. Audrey, of course, knows none of this, but she’ll learn, and she’ll have to make a choice and decide if this world is worth saving.
It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Audrey, like her mother, is a Crimsonata, and it’s through the cyclical flows of blood that keeps the dimensions separate and safe. The Ovessa, a gutter god, is seeking to break through dimensions and feast on the Earth. To satiate its hunger, it must ensure that Audrey, the last Crimsonata, is destroyed, and so it births its children, the deformed Invocated, onto our plane of existence to hunt her down and eliminate her.
I admit, at first I thought The Invocated to be little more than Cenobite copycats, but as I worked my way through Bleed Away the Sky, I ultimately found myself digging what Steele did with these creatures. I was wrong to presume them as little more than riffs on Barker’s hellraising creations, and although they are clearly inspired by the Order of the Gash, Steele gives The Invocated an interesting mythology that helps separate them from their literary forefather.
Those mythological bones that help give shape and form to the plot are, in fact, one of Bleed Away the Sky’s biggest selling points. I dug the hell out the lore surrounding the Crimsonata, the Ovessa, and the secret societies that have come to surround these figures. I’m a sucker for secret histories and the hidden occult, and Steele injects a heady dose of both of these into the proceedings, slowly peeling back the various layers for both Audrey and his readers. I’d also really like to get the perspective of women readers on this one, given the mythologizing of menstruation here and the importance of the Crimsonata’s blood flow. There’s room for some really interesting discussions on the cosmic importance of periods, I think, and it’s a topic male authors tend to shy away from, either out of disgust or obliviousness perhaps. It’s an interesting conceit to pin a book of horror fantasy around, but I do wonder if perhaps it’s a bit too romanticized here. Even if it is, it’s still an interesting plot element to say the least, and makes for an interesting spin on the concept of Girl Power itself.
Although I enjoyed Bleed Away the Sky for the most part, I did find myself having a few qualms along the way. The first few times we meet The Invocated, Steele relies too heavily on repetitious descriptions of what these monstrosities look like. By the fifth time I had to read about their various disfigurements and unnaturally elongated finger bones, I’d pretty well gotten the gist of what they were supposed to look like. The climax felt a bit too rushed and too easily resolved, and was followed by an odd scene of unnatural levity that didn’t quite work given the book’s overall tone. The story’s resolution goes on for too long as Steele sets up what looks to be a longer-running premise to turn Audrey into a serialized heroine with further adventures on the way. This wouldn’t at all be a bad thing, but given how long the book continues to run after the primary threat has been dealt with made me wonder why all these pages were necessary. They’re not bad mind you, but they feel slightly misplaced here. It’s gets into some Return of the King territory, with too many endings as if Steele, like Peter Jackson with his Lord of the Rings finale, wasn’t quite sure where to stop and kept finding one more ode to pay and one more concept to play with and one more loose string to tie up while creating another one for later. That last handful of chapters make for an odd shift as the central story concludes, but the book keeps on going anyways in order to establish itself as a series in its final moments.
This, of course, begs the question on whether or not I would read more about Audrey. I certainly think I would. Steele is a capable story teller, he’s got good ideas, and Audrey’s evolution was well handled. There’s certainly more to her character, and her role as Crimsonata, that can be fleshed out in further installments. The action scenes were well staged, and I loved those chapters of absolute horror that found The Invocated paying visits to various small towns around the US as they tracked Audrey and her brother. I loved the cosmic horror conceits quite a lot, and Steele appears to have been influenced by two of my favorite heroines — Ellen Ripley and Buffy Summers — so I’m certainly curious to see where this all goes. Steele certainly has left the door open wide enough, and set up a world broad enough, to ensure all kinds of danger can head Audrey’s way. And, just as Buffy famously said, if the apocalypse comes, beep her.