Religious horror is one of my favorite sub-genres. I jump at the chance to check out any new book or film within this realm. Sometimes what’s new turns out to be a mediocre attempt at emulating the classics. But every so often, I’m impressed by novel ideas that leave a own mark on the genre. Saint’s Blood, the debut novella from author Ryan C. Bradley, is one such gem.
The story begins with an unassuming bar sequence, as we meet Richie Mallory, a professor who’s just finished the semester. As he settles in to drink his cares away, he’s paid an unexpected visit. Richie is abducted by the siblings of a former student. Taken to their home, he soon learns they seek his blood to heal their sick brother.
It turns out Richie is a descendant of a Catholic saint, and therefore his captors believe his blood has miraculous healing properties. Richie, who never had strong ties to his family’s faith, is in for a struggle for his life as he is abused by a family of religious zealots.
Novellas allow less space for story development. It takes some skill to not only capture the reader’s attention, but to create a well-rounded story with all the right components. In Saint’s Blood, Bradley manages to pull the reader in from the start, and provides a tense, fast-paced thrill ride that leaves an impact.
This story reads very much like a film, and I love that. The writing is engaging and descriptive. Bradley gets to the point without going too far. The torture scenes were tough to handle but I never felt the need to turn away.
The characters are believable and the protagonist relatable enough that the reader can empathize, which adds more weight to the proceedings. I like my stories to have a nice blend of horror, heart, and humor, and found all of those present here.
The author shines light on religion in America, and the hypocrisy demonstrated by so many who claim to have Christian beliefs. As the reader goes through Richie’s present-day dilemma, they also visit his flashbacks from younger years, and the stories passed down about his relative, Saint Manuel Ramirez de Chicoata.
This story makes the reader question their own beliefs, morals, and judgements. It also has some subtle, yet eye-opening moments. I mention these heavier topics, but don’t be misled into thinking this is the only focus. While it’s true that religion and politics are among the themes, they are the underpinning to an entertaining and well-crafted story.
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I can tell that the author is a true horror fan, as this tome, while unique, is reminiscent of several horror classics. It had me thinking of the backwoods family horror genre, made famous by the likes of the Texas Chainsaw franchise. In many ways, it also brought The Exorcist to mind. I couldn’t help but compare Richie’s inner turmoil to that of Father Karras. Despite the obvious differences in their background and vocation. Also, some of those torture sequences gave me flashbacks to Misery.
Saint’s Blood is a great intersection of horror and religion. It’s a fresh take on the subgenre that hasn’t been done before. This novella is unique in its storyline but pays subtle tribute to classics of the genre, with a smattering of beloved horror tropes. It made me care about the characters and pause to think, while turning pages as quick as possible due to suspense. I’m looking forward to reading more from Ryan C. Bradley in the future.
Wicked Rating: 8/10
Saint’s Blood is available to purchase in paperback and Kindle formats here.