Arachniss, by Shawn. C. Butler
Hey guys, welcome back to Bookish Beyond.
How have you been keeping lately?
Today, I’m excited to be reviewing Arachniss, a science fiction thriller by Shawn. C. Butler.
So, if you’ve got your favourite drink to hand and are all settled in, let’s begin.
David is afraid something is slowly eating his baby son, Jason; he’s sure he’s missing more body parts as time goes on, but his memories are hazy, like they’re being re-written.
With the SHAS (Selective Human Autosarcopagic Syndrome) pandemic still very much alive, people are losing body parts all over the place.
Meanwhile, David struggles with his abusive marriage, hoping to leave with his baby son while he can. He soon discovers what is truly taking people’s limbs (beings known as Arach), and promises he will do anything to protect his son from further harm. Now, David will have the illusion removed from his perspective; he will see the world as it really is and all the horrors that come with such clarity of vision. However, can David truly commit to his promise, even if it means doing unspeakable acts to fellow human beings?
In terms of characters, four leading ones took centre stage: David, Alicia, Franzia, and Arachniss.
David, a devoted father and children’s book author had a truly traumatic childhood which led to him being stuck in the foster care system. He has never forgiven himself for what happened to his family, even though none of it was technically ever his fault. Now, David is part of an unhealthy marriage to wife Alicia, who beats him relentlessly as time goes on. Despite his wife’s repeated abuse, David continues to try and make things work, anxious about the repercussions if he tries to leave. Despite his reluctance to leave his abusive marriage, I considered David to be a brave character as he has taken in so much trauma and pain throughout his life thus far, persevering through it all. I watched him go from a broken man at the start of the story, to a man who was willing to do anything to protect the ones he loves, to use his anger at the situations in his life to save himself and his son.
Alicia, David’s wife is a Denver city prosecutor, who at first seems loving and quirky. However, as the story progressed, she became more and more unhinged, socially isolating David and being unnecessarily cruel toward him. I really didn’t like her character; she was cruel and manipulative and always seemed to be playing some sort of power game with David. Although she’s sneaky and it was often hard to tell if she really was abusive at first, she soon showed her true colours as a truly heinous human being.
Franzia, a government engineer is apologetically blunt and truthful. She is also bubbly and ‘loud’ in her own way, with an overly friendly nature. She was also oddly and hilariously funny, able to poke fun at herself, which allowed me to warm to her gradually over time. Seeing her become close friends with David was nice as it enabled both of them to share their personal traumas and to have a friend with which they could confide in during times of extreme duress.
Finally, we come to Arachniss, the antagonist of the story. At first, this primarily-featured member of the Arach (a supernatural alien species) appears to David as a strange blur. This otherworldly entity is not quite a true living consciousness, but a sort of advanced AI. Both mysterious and deadly, Arachniss seems cold and unfeeling at first glance (borderline psychopathic by human standards), but later we see his sense of empathy and his own ‘humanity’ so to speak. He is highly intelligent, considering the extent of his race’s actions at great depth. Although I initially disliked Arachniss, I couldn’t help but like him in the end as he was written in such a way that evoked a sense of humanity which lives within us all at our deepest cores.
With regards to Arachniss, there were many positive elements, which I have detailed below:
- I liked the quotes at the start of the chapters as they gave additional meaning to the story and primed my brain to think about the story’s core themes.
- Gradually learning about David’s tragic childhood broke me, because of the depth of emotional pain I felt for him. I empathised greatly with the child he’d been, aghast at the atrocities he had come to unjustly bear the blame for.
- The story examines the complex and sensitive topic of domestic abuse against men, a subject which is rarely given air time. I feel that this particular topic was well explored, if tentatively at first, demonstrating how men can also be the victims of assault and toxic relationships.
- The author has a good sense of humour, which can also be quite dark at times, helping to lighten otherwise tense moments throughout the story.
- The tension building was wonderfully done and was very ‘edge of your seat’ at points.
- I liked how the tense and more violent scenes were interspersed with more reflective, sad scenes, especially where David and Franzia shared their stories of loss and pain. There was something very human about these scenes as they were full of genuine vulnerability and connection.
While reading Arachniss, I encountered an endless amount of inspiring quotes, however, the following six hit me the hardest.
1) ‘The search for perfection is just performative failure. The search for constant, reasonable improvement in the face of that reality is the real test. You must strive. You must want. And you must feel compassion for one another when you fail. That’s all.’
2) ‘Imperfection is innate to creation. It would be insane to pretend otherwise.’
3) ‘Everyone has a limit- in the end there’s always a breaking point. A bridge too far. A choice you couldn’t make.’
4) ‘Sometimes we punish ourselves for things we’ve done, or not done. Or we let others do it for us.’
5) ‘Horror wasn’t what happened to you, but how you felt about it.’
6) ‘Hard choices were often the best way to reveal underlying truths.’
Overall, Arachniss was an intriguing and well executed supernatural thriller which explored the role of a supernatural entity in the subsequent destruction of human life. Themes of mortality, perception, loss, and domestic abuse feature heavily throughout, challenging the preconceived notion that men cannot be victims of such violence from women. The story also discusses how we treat other creatures simply as something to be consumed, while exploring the nature of evolving humanity, with such hatred lingering in us as a species.
My Rating: 5 stars.
Recommended to: horror or supernatural thriller fans with a love for books with unique concepts.
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