Sefira and Other Betrayals by John Langan
Publisher: Hippocampus Press | Release Date: April 20, 2019 | Pages: 408 pages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love a John Langan story. They are often complex, using multiple narrative layers to construct a puzzle box of terror and emotion. His characters are not thin-paper cutouts that exist to be tortured like in some genre tales. And by extension, a Langan monster is not your standard horror creature. His bizarre creations make for exciting reading. And, equally important, they serve a larger purpose in his stories.
Horror author John Langan has chosen betrayal as the theme for his third collection. As you can imagine for a writer of Mr. Langan’s caliber, he finds a wealth of material with that theme. It is interspersed through every rich sentence and every dense paragraph. Two new stories (the titular “Sefira” and the religious nightmare “At Home in the House of the Devil”) and six reprints are included in Sefira and Other Betrayals. “Sefira” is a brilliant road trip novella as well as an exploration of a marriage shattered. If you like body horror, this will be the story for you. It serves as a perfect introduction to the rest of the stories within.
If I had to pick a couple other favorites, I’d go with “In Paris, in the Mouth of Kronos” and “The Third Always Beside You.” “In Paris, in the Mouth of Kronos” is a noir heavy indictment of torture and the horrors of war. Its ending is startling and awe-inspiring. On the other side of the coin is the much quieter “The Third Always Beside You.” As mentioned in his Story Notes (more on those in a moment), John Langan set out to produce a different kind of vampire story for an Ellen Datlow anthology. He succeeds in the best possible way. The power of this story lies, once again, in the relationships of its characters.
I’m glad that the collection is closed out with lengthy Story Notes. I’ve always been a fan of these kind of sections. Because of the layered nature of these stories, these Notes helped me to wrap my head around the eight tales I’d experienced. Not every story is perfect, but they all have their strengths. I read a lot of horror fiction, and it’s books like this that make me want to be a better writer. Sefira and Other Betrayals is proof that horror can be literary. But these stories are not the stuffy texts we were forced to read in high school. Not even close.