This is the first of hopefully many reviews from the wonderful blogger Anna who runs Of Books and Coffee. We are delight to have them on the site with their review of Chelser’s Devourer. Check out more of their reviews at https://ofbooksandcoffee.com/
Mercedes Fabron, pragmatic wife and childless mother, has her hands full running her husband’s fashion shop and navigating social etiquette. All of which would be considerably easier without uninvited ghosts haunting her night and day.
Out in the streets, people are dying of an undetermined cause. The newspapers speak of an unknown disease, the police speak of accidents. But when a dead man is found in her stairwell, Mercedes has every reason to suspect something much more sinister.
Only the ghosts know the truth, but they are too afraid to tell.
In fact, they are scared to death…
Title: The Devourer| Author: C.H. Chelser| Publisher: Self-pub | Publishing date: May 18th 2019 | Pages: 440 | ISBN: 978-94-92194-26-8 | Genre: Psychological horror | Language: English | Source: Purchase
The Devourer Review
The Devourer is one of those books I wasn’t sure whether I’m going to enjoy. I’m not a traditional target audience of horror stories. I used to like them when I was a kid. These days – I rarely read them. Not because the genre is “for kids”, which it is not; or lacking, which it isn’t. These days – if I read an excellent horror story, my imagination gets the better of me. I live alone, and I like my sleep without any more anxiety than it already has, thank you very much. If the story itself is not great, then I might as well have skipped it.
Which category does The Devourer fall into?
The story is set in 1858 Paris. We meet the main protagonist, Mercedes Fabron, in a fashion shop, which she operates alongside her husband. She takes pride in what she does and always strives to help the customers that visit the establishment. Our first encounter with her is during a conversation with a customer – a lady requires mourning gowns. But there’s a catch.
“To make matters worse, the man who accompanied the lady tried to explain the situation too. Mercedes ignored him. The bloodstains on his jacket and the hole in the side of his head were clear indications that he shouldn’t be partaking in the conversation in the first place.”
Mercedes can see and communicate with ghosts. A lot of the encounters are non-threatening, at a level of polite ignorance. Arguably – her ability is a lifeline of sorts. Mercedes lost her daughter. But Danielle isn’t entirely gone; she still visits her Maman. Those fleeting moments of incorporeal presence help soothe her grief and loneliness. Regardless of how many people are in the house, Erik – the husband, household staff, or lodgers, one can still be very much alone.
Left with her grief, dark secret, and wifely duty to keep up the appearances that everything is fine, Mercedes has but one friend she can turn to – Anne. Madame Esmeralda, as the world knows her, is a friend, a confidante, a guide, and more. Her herbal remedies are as effective as her card readings, and it is her Mercedes can turn to when events take a dark turn. Which they inevitably do.
As Mercedes is confronted with forces much darker and more sinister than anything she encountered before, she needs to face challenges on the spiritual side of the veil. All of that while trying to maintain the proper, respectable lady-like facade for the outside world, navigating stormy waters of her husband’s moods and unfounded suspicions, and fending off blackmail from a house staff.
The book is described as a psychological horror novel that goes beyond the classic paranormal genre. While it has a strong supernatural element to it, the psychological aspect of the story struck me the most – it touches on themes of child loss, suicide, honour, guilt, love, grief, hate, trauma, domestic abuse, self-loathing, and self-forgiveness.
The atmosphere is dark, and if you’re in for the creepy parts – there’s a few that gave me goosebumps. Yet, the darkness is not only skin-deep – author poses more difficult questions: is there a life after death, are souls inherently immortal, is it as simple as the reward for the just and the punishment for the wicked?
I had an idea of what I wanted to say in the review. The longer I look at the words in the draft, the more I want to talk about the aspects of the story that are not in the genre of horror.
The Devourer is an intricate story which interweaves the paranormal and historical fiction. Yes – there are card readings, astral travels through the world of the living and the dead, angels and demons, etc. Yes – there are streets of Paris from over a century ago. But there is also, still relevant today, analysis of an ill-fitted marriage and abusive control.
Erik, Mercedes’ husband, also grieves. It’s undeniable that he loves his wife, but boy what a piece of… art he is — all within the boundaries of societal acceptance of coverture. A married woman was under the guardianship of her husband, who was the legal “head and master”. The protagonist does her best to operate on the thin ice of his anger, diffuse the situation should it be necessary, and even take the consequences on the chin.
Within all that, there is also a hidden power of will.
- “A little faith in yourself wouldn’t go amiss either. When the fat hits the fire and the bastard does come back tonight, praying should be your last resort, not your first.”
- “What else can I do? Stab it with my scissors?”
- “If you want the scissors to hurt it, they will.”
Sometimes the will, the intent is all you’ve got. And it may just be enough to find strands of good in a forsaken soul. To fend off the darkness and let the light turn black into grey.
Which brings me to yet another aspect of the narrative – mental health. I suspect many readers can find pieces of their personal story within the pages of the Devourer, and recognise familiar elements through different characters. Without giving too much away, I will say that the difficult subjects are handled mindfully despite their weight.
Before finishing off, I would also like to mention the ending. Don’t worry – no spoilers! While reading the book, I was concerned that the conclusion would be too much or not enough. But to me – it was just right. After all, you cannot always expect miracles.
The Devourer was not at all what I expected. Similarly to the best reads I encountered this year, you can take the events on the face value. You can also delve deeper and dare to challenge your own thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives.
Neil Gaiman said: “We convey the truth through the stories. We are taking people that do not exist, and things that did not happen to those people, in places that aren’t, and we are using those things to communicate the truth.”
The themes I thought would keep me awake at night for weeks, made way for contemplation of what it means to be a woman in modern society and how far have we gone since 1858. Or did we?
This book is available through various retailers via its Goodreads page; however, in the interest of promoting literacy programs, we recommend purchasing it from Better World Books if at all possible.
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
Though no longer involved with Ladies of Horror Fiction due to other responsibilities and a too-full plate, she was one of the original 4 co-founders.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.