Preface: the authors are not overly concerned about offending anyone. They said as much in the opening pages. But that doesn’t mean they’re intentionally trying to trigger anyone. There’s a reason that its intended readership is a mature one. There’s also validity to the trigger content warning. Should you need a rundown of what those are, they’re included via a hypertext link. The reader should have an idea of what they’re getting into, and I appreciate the authors for including them.
Nautical stories aren’t as common as one might think they’d be. In fact, I’ve read only a handful of them and I’m not sure why. The same is true of nautical television shows and films. It’s baffling because those that I am familiar with, I had a blast consuming. Books like Nick Cutter’s The Deep, Melville’s Moby-Dick,20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Vern, and James Cameron’s The Abyss went a long way in uncovering my literary roots, as far as LIKES and DISLIKES went. Even though I didn’t read them as a child, or see similar films until much later, they still became a part of who I am. They were always there, patiently waiting to be discovered.
Needless to say, as soon as I learned that Maiden by T.C. Parker and Ward Nerdlo (both pseudonyms,) was available as a Read Now option through netgalley.com, I knew I had to read it. The premise then sealed the deal.
Something’s different about this time, though. The Pepper Kay can feel it in her boards, in her bolts and berth. It’s coming off the ocean, rolling in on churning waves: an oppressive feeling of doom. A sense of finality. Of ending.
One of my favorite elements of horror is dread. That might seem like an obvious statement, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true for everyone. The word dread is practically synonymous with fear, after all, and that’s essentially what the genre is: mounting fear. That’s exactly what T.C. Parker and Ward Nerdlo gave, from beginning to end. Even in the pivotal flashback scenes (which were some of my favorites,) I felt that escalating dread; that certainly that something bad or awful was going to happen. And they always delivered.
Told in six alternating POVs, the authors inexplicably managed to tell a well-written, lightning-quick, character-driven novel. Each character had a distinctive voice, with their own opinions, values, and life experiences. They had their own traumas and challenges to overcome, both in the past and present. Out of the six, the one that astounded me the most was the Pepper Kay herself. There was a special quality and empathetic tone to her voice, the likes of which I hadn’t seen done before. You wouldn’t think it possible, but even she had a personality and intuitiveness that I found incredibly endearing.
Charlie and Jordan are tied as my favorite characters. I often found myself oscillating between the two. For the longest time, I believed that honor belonged to Charlie, because she was always so strong and confident, whereas Jordan was almost the complete opposite. As his arc progressed, I grew to adore and respect him. It was a pleasure to watch him grow. Actually, with the exception of the deck boss, Nash, they all changed and matured exponentially.
Speaking of him, I can’t remember the last time I felt such utter disgust and hatred for a fictional character. I still would’ve loathed him regardless, but if there were glimpses into his adolescence or a variance to his childhood, maybe (and that’s an extreme maybe,) I could’ve understood or sympathized with him in some way. I wanted a deeper, more complex character. Unfortunately, the reader isn’t given any of that. As a result, Nash was very black and white, offering little to zero depth. He possessed no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Being wholly evil incarnate, I longed for some shade of moral ambiguity. Not necessarily something virtuous, but something different to latch onto; something to cherish. The last thing I expected was a one-note villain.
Their wails are a cacophony she cannot bear. But she will listen; she can do nothing else. She will allow guilt to fester in her intangible core, where she keeps the part of her that thinks, that feels, that knows humanity as a familiar if abstract concept. She has no heart but is heartbroken. No mind, yet she mourns.
As mentioned before, the pacing was great, fantastic. It never lulled, there was always something interesting happening, and the prose kept me turning pages. I had to find out what happened next. I needed to learn more about these characters. And much of its easy readability stemmed from the synchronization of Nerdlo and Parker.
I’d never read either author, so it’s impossible to determine who wrote what or whether or not their styles would’ve otherwise clashed, but personally, it felt very cohesive. It sounded like one author instead of two, and that’s always the goal of any collaboration. Granted, there were some passages that used compound sentences and others that were more simplistic, but the same can be said about my own writing and, I suspect, pretty much anyone’s prose. I can’t emphasize enough just how natural and in sync the whole felt.
The ending was very satisfying, although some suspension of disbelief was required. However, those instances lent it some mysterious elements which I really appreciated because not everything was “wrapped neatly with a bow,” and I greatly dislike endings that are too neat. This one struck a nice balance. The tension and dread were top-notch. I couldn’t ask for more. It was fascinating to see how everything unraveled, from multiple perspectives because there was so much happening simultaneously. And then they surpassed all expectations with an utterly unpredictable and beautiful development. To say any more would do it a disservice.
Charlie is on her knees beside him, wailing, sounding not unlike the sirens of myth, and with this in mind, Jordan turns to get another look at the thing in the pot… Either that, or this is all a dream. Has to be. Nothing makes sense in this upside-down world.
Sam’s at the port railing, vomiting over the side. When the guy manages to collect himself, he swipes emesis, chunky and pink, from his week-old growth of beard. His eyes are mad..
Lastly, I wanted more. That’s a compliment to any author. Maiden was barely two hundred pages, but Parker and Nerdlo made every word count. There was a purpose to everything. It wasn’t long before I started to love Sam, Charlie, Jordan, and their captain, simply known as God. I felt like I knew them personally, as if they’d shared intimate details of their life with me, though not in an obvious or direct manner. There was a lot communicated flat-out, but T.C. Parker and Ward Nerdlo implemented a fair amount of subtlety, too. If executed well, an author can give the reader just enough information about character that it feels like you have a clear sense of who they are, and that’s precisely what they accomplished here.
The story was a whole lot of fun to read. Despite the proclivities of a certain callous individual, I managed to look past those things and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. And what a ride it was. I think my time aboard the Pepper Kay will resonate for a long time. I hope I never forget it, of only because it serves as a very grim reminder of how depraved humanity can devolve into. More importantly, it’s a testament to the formidable resistance of virtue.
In summation, Parker and Nerdlo crafted an enticing creature feature set in the frigid confines of the Bering Strait. Therein, they explored the extremes of depravity and virtue, in stunning equality. And though I would’ve preferred the antagonist to be less black and white and more gray, I still can’t fault it too much. For that reason, I’m giving it four stars, but please note that those stars are very, very firm. Nearly 5/5.
I was given an e-copy in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley and the authors. My opinions are my own. Thank you.