Book review: Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Title: Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Publisher: Berkley

Publication date: 9 July 2019

Genre: Science fiction | Adult

Page extent: 320 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A lethal virus is awoken on an abandoned spaceship in this incredibly fast-paced, claustrophobic thriller.

They thought the ship would be their salvation.

Zahra knew every detail of the plan. House of Wisdom, a massive exploration vessel, had been abandoned by the government of Earth a decade earlier, when a deadly virus broke out and killed everyone on board in a matter of hours. But now it could belong to her people if they were bold enough to take it. All they needed to do was kidnap Jaswinder Bhattacharya—the sole survivor of the tragedy, and the last person whose genetic signature would allow entry to the spaceship.

But what Zahra and her crew could not know was what waited for them on the ship—a terrifying secret buried by the government. A threat to all of humanity that lay sleeping alongside the orbiting dead.

And then they woke it up.

Salvation Day is a science fiction thriller with an edge of horror, and perhaps shouldn’t be read whilst there’s a deadly virus outbreak happening around the world….

Set in a world hundreds of years after the first Collapse of Earth, a new society has been born. Councils rose to fix the wrongs of the past. But outside of the Council’s protected cities lie groups of people either escaping the Councils and their control, or refugees desperately trying to enter the cities. One such group, a cult from the North American desert, have found their chance to escape to freedom in the skies. Years ago, House of Wisdom, one of the biggest ships ever built, was destroyed in a virus outbreak. But now, the cult members have a plan to reach the ship and rebuild it to support their colony. Except then they wake up what was waiting on the ship….

Going into Salvation Day, I think I expected more horror elements than we got. It’s definitely a science fiction novel first and foremost, with a focus on space travel and somtimes intricate details of the House of Wisdom ship and it’s workings. Whilst there is a focus on the virus and the outbreak that killed everyone, particularly in the first section of the novel I didn’t find myself as scared or unsettled as I would usually feel with such a concept. And I think it’s because the heavy sci-fi focus probably muted the horrory virus aspect. BUT! There are definitely moments where it began to get to more horror and I was racing through the book to see WTF was going on! Some of my favourites (as spoiler free as possible…):
– The bathroom door
– ‘What are you doing with the knife’
– The realisation on the Bridge

I really enjoyed the breaks between the POVs of extracts from the House of Mourning Star, one of the old Earth ships from when humans tried to escape the Collapse hundreds of years ago. This way of structuring a book is something I’ve been really enjoying lately, I just love how it gives the reader that sense of all knowing because it really makes everything so much scarier.

Something I wasn’t so sure of was the cult aspect. It kind of felt like it was out of a totally different novel – it just didn’t gel together with the really sci-fi element to me. The motivations didn’t seem to line up with the stakes they were involved with, and I’m not sure I was ever satisfied with why Adam (the cult leader) was doing any of what he was. Of the characters, Jas was my favourite. He was written well, his anxiety attacks around the ship felt genuine given his past. I also really loved the Jas/Zahra ending – it was probably one of my favourite moments of the book.

The political aspects I also think needed a bit more backstory. The SPEC and their desires felt randomly added to the end of the story, and I think that plotline would’ve worked better with a few more hints earlier in the story.

All in all, I enjoyed Salvation Day. Whilst it wasn’t as horrory as I expected from a virus story, it was still a tense and fast paced thriller and I really liked the ending!

Book review: Blood Countess by Lana Popović

Title: Blood Countess by Lana Popović

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

Publication date: 28 January 2020

Genre: Horror | Young Adult | Romance | Historical

Page extent: 320 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A historical YA horror novel based on the infamous real-life inspiration for Countess Dracula,

In 17th century Hungary, Anna Darvulia has just begun working as a scullery maid for the young and glamorous Countess Elizabeth Báthory. When Elizabeth takes a liking to Anna, she’s vaulted to the dream role of chambermaid, a far cry from the filthy servants’ quarters below. She receives wages generous enough to provide for her family, and the Countess begins to groom Anna as her friend and confidante. It’s not long before Anna falls completely under the Countess’s spell—and the Countess takes full advantage. Isolated from her former friends, family, and fiancé, Anna realizes she’s not a friend but a prisoner of the increasingly cruel Elizabeth. Then come the murders, and Anna knows it’s only a matter of time before the Blood Countess turns on her, too.

This book had one of the most intriguing premises of 2020 – sapphic romance with one of the most prolific female serial killers of all time?! Hell yes! I enjoyed this book, particularly the first half, but I do think it lacked a little horror. Don’t get me wrong, there is brutal torture and gorey murder in this book, but I felt like it needed more fear and tension. I wanted it to feel more terrifying and horrory.

The book is told from the POV of Anna, an impoverished healer who, when rescuing a kitten, runs into the new Lady of her land, Elizabeth Báthory. Elizabeth takes a shine to her, and employs her in her castle. What follows is a mix of witchcraft and lust and horror as Anna becomes bewitched by Elizabeth, and the slow realisation of all that Elizabeth is.

The first half of this book is excellent. The initial relationship between Anna and Elizabeth is incredible. The few hints of darkness behind Elizabeth’s facade, the way they stare at each other, how utterly bewitched it seems they are of each other, it is so beautifully done. The way Anna reacts to Fenrec, Elizabeth’s husband, and her fears he is causing the darkness in Elizabeth is both understandable and thrilling in how it causes her to react. I adored the start of their relationship and I really thought we might get an incredible villain romance.

But then the second half hit and it became a little predictable as Elizabeth begins her pursuit for youth and beauty. The ending felt very rushed compared to the first half, which languished unhurridely in the beauty of their developing relationship. I wanted more fear and terror and horror as Elizabeth deteriorated. I wanted to feel some of the passion from the first half of the book. Instead it just felt a little lucklustre in execution, just a little too descriptive to be impactful. All of the torture and murder scenes in particular lacked for me. It felt rather stilted. I understand this might be because this is a YA novel, and the need to keep it less gruesome and terrifying because of that. So perhaps this would have worked better as an adult when the true horror of Elizabeth could really be explored with more emotional impact.

Blood Countess was one I wanted to adore. And I think I would have if the passion and fire from the first half of the novel continued to the second half. But sadly, it didn’t and it got a little too rushed to be a satisfying ending. This is still definitely worth a read through, for the beautiful and incredible development of the sapphic romance.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco