[Review] The Day of the New Gods (plus an interview with the author, Luke Walker)

The Day of the New Gods

William J Brown reviews The Day of the New Gods – Luke Walker’s ‘hugely enjoyable, turbo-charged’ prequel to The Mirror of the Nameless – and interviews the author for Horrified...

‘Like giant wet boulders, pieces of the thing’s arms sloughed off and dropped, falling fast and leaving open wounds in its limbs. Four, five, six massive chunks of its body dropping into the sheets of smoke before vanishing. Then more. And more. But the giant was not dissolving. As tall as a skyscraper from New York, it shook its arms, freeing lumps of itself which rained into Blackwood in wet streaks…’

The monstrous gods are on the march again in Luke Walker’s The Day of the New Gods. I reviewed Walker’s The Mirror of the Nameless last year and absolutely loved it. The Day of the New Gods is the prequel to that novel – you just gotta have a prequel these days, right? – and there’s a sequel (The Nameless) touted for this summer. All in all, it’s the perfect time to get into Walker’s brand of hugely enjoyable, turbo-charged ultragore.

It’s not for the squeamish: Walker has a knack for writing stomach-churning body horror. It’s not for the easily offended, either: there are (by Walker’s own count) 205 uses of the f-word in The Day of the New Gods – that’s more than in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which is pretty damn impressive.

the mirror of the namelessThe Mirror of the Nameless was set thirty years after earth had been invaded, and the human race enslaved, by a trio of monstrous gods from another dimension. Segoth, Gatur, and Naz Yaah spend their time sauntering across the planet, commanding sacrificial devotion and leaving infernal carnage in their wake. The novel ended on a mind-scrambling cliffhanger, and I was, I must admit, a tad disappointed to learn that the follow-up would be a prequel rather than a sequel. But hey, good things come to those who wait, as they say – and The Day of the New Gods is just as welcome, thank you very much.

This time Walker takes us right back to the beginning: 28 July 1986, the day the gods first slipped through a rent in our universe. Here we find out how the gods’ invasion of the planet went down, and about humanity’s early attempts to withstand them. I had many questions after the last book, and many of them are answered here: we learn how the gods’ names became known; we gain some insight into their psychology and their power to manipulate human minds. Walker’s world-building is deft in its economy. There are no info dumps, and nothing is allowed to slow down the story’s propulsive forward motion. But, little by little, he weaves a compelling monsterverse much more visceral – and readable! – than its Lovecraftian inspirations.

There’s no preamble in Walker’s novels. He likes to begin in medias res, plunging us into the thick of the action. In this case, we’re thrust into the aftermath of a bank robbery. Brian Jackson, Kevin ‘Buggy’ Bugg, John Parker, Willie Hoskins, and Andy Doyle have made off with £25,000 (loadsamoney!) and hijacked a coach filled with pensioners – ‘old farts who’d thought they were getting a trip to the seaside’ – to make their getaway.

The dialogue in these opening scenes is hard-as-nails: ‘Get the job done quick-and-clean was always the plan. Bastard always. None of this “old lady brained and bleeding on the floor of a coach” business.’ The gang isn’t particularly likeable to begin with, but Walker gradually imbues them with humanity. Brian’s plan is to get a couple of gangsters off their backs and then head to Spain, leaving his criminal past behind him, to live with his daughter (named, somewhat mystifyingly, ‘Brianna’). But then Segoth and his siblings appear, and Brian’s dream goes the way of all best-laid plans…

With the coming of the gods, Brian’s most immediate aim is to find his daughter. This is a recurring element in Walker’s books: main characters in The Mirror of the Nameless and The Dead Room also search frantically for their children amidst carnage-torn landscapes. A further novel with a similar dynamic might stretch credulity, but it works well here. As his love for his daughter is one of Brian’s only humanising qualities, it seems to stand out with greater poignancy.

There’s more emotional depth to the novel in general. It’s not overdone, just a few nimble flourishes here and there. In my opinion, it’s not Brian’s love for Brianna which really resonates, but the friendship shown between the men as the nightmare unfolds around them. They’re not quite the ‘bad men’ the book’s tagline makes them out to be, and there’s a touching paean to male friendship playing just below the thrills and kills.

On his blog, Walker says that ‘these three books are my Friday night with a few beers type books. OTT, violent, action horror.’ This is a perfect description of the trilogy so far. You read these books quickly, veering from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, the violence and gore bringing a smile to your lips. The protagonists are Jason Statham types, wisecracking through the terror and grimacing through all the pain that’s sent their way (Walker certainly subscribes to the get-the-character-up-the-tree-and-then-throw-rocks-at-them model of storytelling!) – but there’s a great deal of passion and inventiveness on display nonetheless. Walker clearly loves his monsters, as well he should – the gods are marvellous creations, and I can’t wait for the next instalment.

After enjoying The Day of the New Gods, we took the opportunity to ask Luke Walker some questions.

William: Who’s your favourite under-appreciated British horror author?

Luke: That’s a tough one to narrow down to a single author. Horror is definitely a genre that to most readers is dominated by a few select names. Even if people aren’t a fan, they know those names, leaving the unknown authors to stay unknown (but then that’s marketing for you). I absolutely love Gary McMahon’s stuff. He really nails a certain downtrodden something in modern Britain – which makes his books sound depressing. Far from it. He’s an honest writer which is always a sign of a great writer. In all fiction but especially horror, honesty is essential. Laura Mauro is another name that immediately comes to mind. It’s early days for Laura, but I fully expect to read more amazing books from her in the next few years. Like Gary, she knows how to get under the reader’s skin with just a few lines. I’m a massive fan of any writer who can do that.

W: What’s your favourite under-appreciated British horror novel?

L: Tough one. I tend to think of authors more than titles when it comes to this, so spinning off the first question, Craig Saunders, CC Adams, Simon Bestwick, Rich Hawkins and CJ Waller are all writing some absolute first-rate horror at the moment and deserve to be better known. William Meikle is Scottish and lives in Canada; I love his books. He can go from pulp to Lovecraftian with ease. If you’re looking for horror running the gamut of gore, creepy, atmospheric, literary, funny and very British, then these writers are for you.

W: If you could pick any decade – or century! – to write in, which would you choose?

L: If we’re talking purely from a sales angle, then give me the 1980s. I would have thrived back then. I can’t tell you how many paperback horrors I got from the library in the second half of the decade. Stuff I shouldn’t have been reading, but then 80s kids were a world away from modern life. It was always a pleasure to find yet another horror with a lurid cover, usually with in the tradition of insert more famous author’s name on the front. I think some of my work would have fit quite nicely on those library shelves, but then the horror boom has long since died.

W: If there was a movie adaptation of the Mirror trilogy, would you rather the gods were created using computer-generated effects or made through more old-school means?

L: I’m a big fan of old-school effects along the lines of The Thing but with the stuff I’ve got going on in those books, it would have to be CGI. Saying that, Day Of The New Gods is firmly set in 1986, so 80s effects would add to it. I’d love to see a mixture of old-school with up to date effects, made by someone who really gets action and horror. Get Neil Marshall on the phone, give him loads of cash and make my series into the sort of films you watch on a Friday night with a few lagers and your mates.

W: Have you ever scared or repulsed yourself with your own writing?

L: Scared? Not exactly. I’ve gone into uncomfortable places from a personal point of view and I’ve occasionally wondered if I need to pull back. That’s usually a sign that, yes, I have to trim the detail. There’s a scene in my book Ascent that I chewed over before including because I felt it really showed just how evil the being behind everything in that one is. Similar story in The Kindred which is about as bloody as I’ve ever been, but again, I felt it was all necessary. Gore for the sake of being gross isn’t my thing. If there’s physical violence, I need a reason for it. The Mirror trilogy is violent but it’s supposed to be in the same way an action film is meant to be loud and exciting. Going into the dark on a personal level is harder but it can be rewarding. My first book (now out of print, sadly) is still probably my most personal tale. It’s also one of the darkest. I had to push my own buttons for that one, then find my way out of it. The uglier the real world gets, the more honest my writing becomes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t lights down there in the dark.

W: On your blog you describe The Mirror of the Nameless as ‘Mad Max meets Lovecraft’, and The Day of the New Gods as ‘Lovecraft meets The Long Good Friday.’ What can we expect from the third instalment?

L: Funny you should ask as I’ve been thinking about this a great deal. The first two comparisons came immediately. The Nameless has proved harder simply because it’s an all bets are off kind of book. The scale is bigger; the stakes are literally everything and there are no guarantees on anything. So, Lovecraft meets Shit Is About To Go Down or Lovecraft meets Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. If they hadn’t used it already for Aliens, I’d steal the tagline.

This time, it’s war.

W: Has the coronavirus pandemic or lockdown had any impact on the substance of your writing? Do you think you’ll incorporate it into your future writing?

L: Hard to say as it’s obviously an ongoing situation. I finished writing a book early last year that deals with an infection of sorts although it isn’t exactly an illness. I have characters locking themselves in their houses and limiting interaction and treating everything like they’re in the middle of the Black Death. Unsurprisingly, it’s yet to find a home with a publisher. When it comes to the real pandemic, I haven’t touched on it to a great extent because I’ve been writing about modern life in worlds that quite clearly are not ours. Variations of ours, I suppose. I imagine I’ll have to get into it sooner or later, but I’m not too keen to do so just yet. I want to see what our world is like in the next year – are we still going to be working from home, reducing our socialising in pubs and cinemas, walking around with masks? In the meantime, I’ll carry on setting my books and stories in other versions of the familiar world.

W: What was the first book that scared you? Do books still scare you now?

L: Probably ’Salem’s Lot when I was twelve. I’d seen the TV version a few years before, but hadn’t read the book. A few scenes still stand out now: Ben’s description and nightmare about going into the Marsten House; Matt slowly walking upstairs to the bedroom and he knows what’s up there even if he can’t believe it; Mark trying to escape with his Houdini trick as it gets darker…all creepy as hell.

It’ll probably get my horror writer card revoked, but I don’t know if many books have really scared me (unless you’re talking something like The Handmaid’s Tale or 1984). Either that or I’ve been reading horror for so long that I’ve forgotten what it means to be scared by fiction. Stories set in the familiar world often have more of a brrr factor for me. I remember reading some of James Herbert’s early books when I was a kid and imagining stuff like The Fog and The Rats happening in my town. It was easy to picture all that because it was a known world. I could see killer rats rampaging through the suburbs or a possibly sentient insanity-inducing fog blowing down my street and sending my neighbours bonkers, and I saw it because the world was so familiar. These days, the stuff that scares me is more personal: getting older, illness, the world completely out of control and there’s nothing I can do about it. Probably why I quite often write about the end of society if not the end of everything

Reality scares the shit out of me. Fiction is our own monsters and we (sometimes) know to slay those monsters. Reality, on the other hand…

W: How did you come up with the ‘monsterverse’ in the Mirror trilogy?

L: I wanted distinct beings with their own personalities and descriptions. I also wanted siblings and some sense of family to contrast with the family set-up in Mirror. Originally, there were a couple of other gods but as I knew the book would be a novella rather than a 90k novel, I had to limit things. It was good to have a tighter focus on the gods, in any case. Naz Yaah and Segoth are more physical than Gatur, which gave me room to get visceral. That was a clear goal right from the start as was the connection to the Nameless. The family thing was always there in the back of my mind. They might be insane killer gods, but they’re still family.

W: Which is your favourite genre other than horror?

L: Probably thrillers. Dark ones, obviously. I think there’s a fine line between thriller and horror. It isn’t as simple as saying a thriller is a horror without the supernatural and perhaps with a lower level of emotional violence, but they’re definitely related. SF and fantasy are often put together with horror; I’d imagine SF and fantasy fans are less likely to be interested in horror than a thriller fan would be. The three genres obviously fall under speculative fiction, but they come from different places and I don’t think horror really fits alongside the other two. SF comes from the thinking mind; fantasy lives in the imagination while horror is born in the lizard brain.

Thrillers are the better-looking cousin of horror.

W: Would you switch to that genre if your books in it were more popular?

L: I call myself a horror writer, but horror is a massive area. Outside of the Mirror trilogy, my most recent stuff has edged into thrillers without my realising it while writing. My next book, Winter Graves, will be published by Hellbound Books this year and you could call it a crime horror in that it involves a police investigation. I didn’t set out to write a mash-up but I think I ended up with one. I’ve also got a recent book that you might call a futuristic thriller and I’m working on a speculative thriller. Whatever I write, it goes dark because that’s what I love to read.

W: What do you think is the present state of British horror? Is it on the wane, or is it due another heyday?

L: I don’t know if it’s due one, but it desperately needs one. Until the big publishers get behind that idea, it won’t happen. There’s a hungry audience out there and the smaller publishers can’t reach them. Publishing is the slowest industry in the universe to react to change and it can be very staid. In this case, it’s missing a trick. Stop with labelling it in different ways and push the horror to its audience and readers, not the people who want to read about angst-ridden vampires and sexy werewolves, and publicise the human monsters. The secret places and the silence in the middle of the night that we listen to. And that listens to us.

See what the indies are doing, who they’re publishing and where those writers are coming from. There’s literally a world of horror out there from cultures galore. The indies get that and so do the readers. In all honesty, I don’t see that happening any time soon which leaves it to the indies to break new ground and new writers. In the meantime, the readers barely know these books exist because they aren’t marketed.

W: Segoth, Gatur, and Naz Yaah, the three monstrous gods in the Mirror trilogy: are you secretly on their side? Do you think that the human race is due some kind of doomsday reckoning?

L: Ha. I’d be lying if I said if it wasn’t fun battering the shit out of the planet across those three books. It was also fun writing about people doing their best to stand up to the gods (side note: this is where horror is at its best for me – characters who do what’s right because it’s right instead of screaming and running away). In the end, I think of the gods as a disease and our planet is the infected body. I’m on the side of the people fighting back. Not that’ll it stop me from putting them through hell, of course.

W: Would you defy the gods or worship them?

L: I’d be the guy who wants to lead the fight back and then either gets killed in the first twenty minutes or who does what Dave Anderson does in Mirror – keep my head down. Of course, if you push a man like Dave too far, if you threaten what is dearest to him, he’ll go to war. Perhaps not as eagerly as Brian Jackson in Day Of The New Gods and with less swearing, but it’s war either way.

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William Brown

William Brown has an MA in English Literature or some such. He’s presently researching British fairy lore and glutting on Christmas horror movies.

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