The opening of Maniac Gods starts with a nice, creepy intro that introduces us to a young girl named Milly, who spots a strange figure standing outside her house one night. Despite the pouring rain, Milly feels a strange compulsion to venture outside to meet this man who waits outside, a bronze mask hiding his features.
Milly’s father Albie (now living elsewhere having separated from his wife Kathleen) awakens in the middle of the night to find that Kathleen has been trying to call him. He receives no reply to his return calls. A bizarre, garbled voicemail being his only real hint of anything. Concerned for his daughter’s wellbeing, he heads out in the rain-soaked night to the village of Penbrook, Hampshire, to get to his ex-wife’s house and find out what is going on.
From there, the story quickly moves into a nightmarish scene that plays out as if someone has opened their box of assorted Lovecraftian nightmares, and poured them all out in a big, writhing pile of tendrils and teeth. Albie finds the town overrun by all manner of foul creatures as he stumbles from one scene of carnage to the next, desperate to reach his family.
The story then jumps forward five years.
We find Albie, a worn-out dishevelled shadow of his former self. Living in a cramped bedsit, alcohol his medicine of choice. He’s still haunted by the things that he saw in Penbrook and the family that he couldn’t save, until one day, he thinks he spots his daughter, Milly.
The book is split into three parts, each one portraying different mental states for Albie. At first, he is filled with determination as he seeks out his family. But his inevitable failure brings him to despair. This despair turns to hope when he realises that, perhaps, Milly is still alive, but events transpire that turn hope, into loss and madness. By the end, Albie teeters on the edge of sanity, the things he has seen and experienced having damaged him not just mentally, but physically too. His body, weak and wounded, barely capable of putting up a fight.
The first and third parts are gore-soaked tales of destruction as Albie initially flees from danger, then toward it. Being both witness and party to some of the violence that occurs.
The second part, and by far my favourite, slows things down as Albie ekes out his lonely existence. Ever fearful of the things he glimpses in the periphery that are watching him.
Given the chance to step back from the mounds of corpses and splayed bodies, part 2 gives the reader time to rest in between the nightmares. It’s not the black nothingness of a peaceful night’s sleep though, as the nightmares are always waiting at the edge of consciousness. But we do get time to know Albie and the despair he feels due to the loss he’s suffered and the horrors he’s witnessed.
The only negative I have is that there are moments where I found the writing to be not quite as descriptive as I would have preferred. That’s a personal thing and in no way detracts from just how compelling the story is and was mainly in the first part as we, along with Albie, stumbled from one monstrosity to another.
Yet again I’ve stumbled across the work of an author who I was previously unfamiliar with, to find a well-written and compelling story that I found hard to put down. Albie works well as the lead character as, rather than being the action hero, defeating all of the evil in his wake, he’s just an ordinary guy.
An ordinary guy, who doesn’t stand a chance against the gods and monsters that he now faces.
Maniac Gods is a great read that I highly recommend and one that certainly means I’m looking forward to reading more of Rich Hawkins work in the future.
At the time of writing, the kindle edition of Maniac Gods is a mere 99p, so you really have no reason not to grab this and give it a read.