"There is nothing to fear in the world of men. It is only in death that the real fear begins."
If you've read my other reviews for Masterton's books, you know I adore the man's work. This is no different and only strengthened my opinion. Death Trance is enshrouded with the cold, chilling feeling reminiscent to The Chosen Child (although that one still won the eerier award), with some scenes so suspenseful the scenes should be given as an example of what the word means in a dictionary. As with many of his novels, he combines intriguing history and religion/culture to push deeper impact.
The plot is a unique one. I'll fill in a bit the back blurb leaves out. When Randolph's family is massacred (in a sickening, detailed scene not intended for the squeamish), he ends up in a hospital with a Hindu doctor trying to console him in his time of grief. Hesitantly the good old doctor mentions how in his religious there is a belief that the living may come in contact with the dead through a sacred ritual led by a pedanda. Drowning in his mystery and unable to come to terms with his loved one's demise, Randolph eagerly embarks in this strange journey, not heeding any warnings that come his way about potential costs.
The story starts with a main character, Michael, then quickly dismisses him until later in favor of Randolph. Michael is a pleasure to read about, as his side story and journey is nearly as interesting. The book begins with the horrendous death of his companion, driving Michael further into his obsession and fear of the Rangda, The Witch Widow. That scene itself was a disturbing introduction into this twisted world.
While it's true Randolph perhaps should have feared more for the souls of his family, I sympathized with his ambition to see them that last time, to try and ease some of his overbearing guilt. Each character served their purpose well, all seeming genuine enough, each working together to serve the whole of the central plot. Thankfully Masterton doesn't commit what I deem to be a cardinal sin - head-hopping too much. When he's with one character, he stays long enough to make the needed impact, not causing unneeded confusion.
Things travel at a relatively speedy pace, leaving pause for build-up and psychological absorption. I never fidgeted from inactivity or needed to take a breather from too much stimulation. Masterton again does not spare us violence or bloodshed, having a few heady scenes stand out as fiercely disturbing. One of the villains of the story, Rangda, comes across as a startingly eerie, powerful force that causes unease. The other more human villain is an exotic mixture of psychopathy, greed, and odd soft spurts. The Hindu legend is fascinating, from the rituals to the priests to the leyaks, dead beings serving Rangda in the hopes of redeeming their spirits.
In summary, Death Trance is another amazing book from a sorely under-appreciated author. This gem boasts suspense at every turn, truly horrific moments, rich characters driven by the most basic ambitions of mankind - love, greed, the thirst of knowledge, and still manages to end up happily after all (for some, that is). If you're in the mood for a horror story, this is the one to get.
“Why does the life everlasting have to be won at such terrible cost? If the life
everlasting is true, why can it be achieved only through death, through grief, and
through agony? What kind of God is it who gives us the world and everything in it,
and the capabiliiy of loving so fiercely, and then takes it all away?”
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