Ashenbrooke, by Robin Styles
Hey guys, welcome back to Bookish Beyond.
How has your week been? Have you uncovered any new favourite reads lately?
Today, I’m excited to be reviewing Ashenbrooke, a suspenseful horror novel by Robin Styles.
So, if you’ve got your favourite drink to hand and are all settled in, let’s begin.
The story is set in Ashenbrooke, USA, close to Halloween. Charlie and his brother Bobby hear disembodied sobs coming from the upstairs of their house, the familiar voice of their mother who has since passed from cancer. Their home is now a tribute to her, her things un-moved as if preserving their place could somehow keep the memory of her alive.
Meanwhile, a strange humanoid creature is attacking people throughout the town. Subsequently, the people of Ashenbrooke are having strange dreams and premonitions as of late. Still, the mysterious killer remains at large and the history of Ashenbrooke plays on the town’s thoughts.
A select few characters captured my interest throughout the book; Charlie and younger brother Bobby, Mike, Emily, and the mysterious dark entity which attacks the residents of Ashenbrooke.
Charlie works as a receptionist at the Ashenbrooke library. He and his brother Bobby lost their mother to cancer not long ago and memories of her still haunt them every day. Charlie seemed the responsible sort, always looking out for others and playing the role of protective big brother to younger sibling Bobby. Throughout the book, Charlie made sure that Bobby was well looked after and did all he could to keep their lives together. For this, I thought him to be quite an admirable character.
Bobby, Charlie’s younger brother is still in secondary school and becomes heavily invested in horror stories as they remind him of the haunting situation back home. Over the course of the story, Bobby proved himself to be a brave and caring individual, rescuing his teacher from an unpleasant situation. Like his older brother Charlie, Bobby misses his mother terribly and believes she is still in the house with them in spirit form. Bobby’s belief that their mother hasn’t yet left them brings him into conflict with Charlie on occasion, however, I thought it was sweet how he still held onto her memory and all she meant to him.
Mike, a dedicated police officer was a hardworking and well organised individual. He was highly intelligent and cared deeply about his fellow officers, as well as other people’s welfare. He took every opportunity to make sure his friends were alright after they were attacked, demonstrating great levels of empathy and rapport with others. Throughout the story, Mike was determined to catch the attacker, no matter the cost, a trait which I found highly admirable.
Next, we come to Emily, Mike’s neighbour and Bobby’s English teacher. Emily was a kind and warm woman, who could always be counted on as a sympathetic ear when someone had a problem. She was a helpful and resourceful individual, coming up with unique solutions whenever problems arose. She also harboured a hidden secret, one which is revealed later in the story and helps tie her fate to the other main characters.
Finally, we come to discuss the entity, the driving dark force which inhabits the pages of this gripping book. Little is known about the entity until later in the story, with the only description we get of it being like a ragged looking humanoid being, with soulless black eyes and a sense of viciousness that is unparalleled. It attacks at will, not appearing to discriminate between who it targets. It is said that there is an ‘absence of time in its eyes,’ suggesting that it is an ancient being, although it’s never concrete as to where it really came from. I found the idea of such a being to be terrifying, each scene it appeared in sending my heart racing as I anticipated what it would do next.
There were several positive aspects which stood out to me while reading Ashenbrooke.
- I immediately loved the author’s style of writing. The first person, present tense was done especially well, something which can be hard to master. Through the main character’s point of view, we got a delightful glimpse of his whimsical side.
- I especially liked how segments from the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and Freud were used at intervals in the story. Likewise, the poems at the start of each part of the book were a lovely touch as they were both haunting and relevant, keeping in line with the core themes of the book.
- I liked how such careful attention to detail was placed on the settings in the story; how the feel, smell, and other main senses were evoked to give a distinct sense of place.
- I enjoyed how, in some chapters, the point of view switched to third person, in order to centre on different characters, allowing us to get a broader scope of the novel’s main events.
- Finally, I liked how the author gradually delved into the main character’s pasts, to show us how they came to be who they are today. This was especially well done with regards to Charlie and how he lost both his parents due to vastly different circumstances, leaving him to care for his brother.
There weren’t many negative aspects to this story, however, there were a few things which I noticed.
- The ending, while nice enough, felt a bit rushed in terms of the build up to the climax and its overall resolution.
- I was confused – throughout the story – as to why dashes were used in place of speech marks to indicate when people were speaking.
- There are some italicised interludes which interrupted some chapters, whose point of view owner is unclear. These sections therefore feel a tad out of place and confused the progression of the story, despite sounding deeply poetic.
Whilst reading Ashenbrooke, I came across six specific quotes which spoke to me.
1) ‘All these pieces of a life that accumulate, filling up rooms and houses.’
2) ‘Perhaps the most shocking or most disturbing elements of these stories are not what we run from but what we cling on to.’
3) ‘I believe a person can be haunted. By their past, by their memories.’
The above three quotes are prime examples of how Charlie and Bobby cling onto the lost spirit of their mother, attempting to preserve her memories by keeping her old room the way it was, never moving any of the belongings within. It’s almost as if they are afraid that by changing anything, her memory will simply cease to exist.
4) ‘Time is a civic benefit. Without it we lose the world, we retreat into our own private fears.’
5) ‘It is only what is unresolved that keeps something alive after it should be long dead.’
This is another important quote as it demonstrates how a lack of proper closure to a specific situation or emotional event leads a person to struggle with moving on in life. The issue in question remains active in their mind and therefore cannot be effectively laid to rest.
6) ‘It has run down, lost something, some fight, and now it’s slow and dark and something has crept in in the night. Something that lives off this fear and sadness, something growing stronger each night as it devours the fears of the living, and prolongs the agonies of the dead.’
This final quote is about the town of Ashenbrooke and how something sinister has begun to prey upon its citizens. Once a prosperous town, it is now defiled by the dark and mysterious entity that makes its way, unseen, through the area, seeming to feed off of people’s fear and distress.
Overall, Ashenbrooke was a gripping horror novel, which delved into the past of a small American town, plagued by a dark and mysterious entity.
Key themes included; time, loss, history, and the supernatural.
My Rating: 4 stars.
Recommended to: lovers of horror novels which focus on psychological aspects of the genre, along with some occasional gore.
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