The lonely Michigan surfing town of Great Water has a long history of inexplicable occurrences. A shocking double murder and suicide there in 1918 still draws tourists who want to see the house where Jack Spivey went mad. But that is only the best-known event in a long list of unsolved disappearances and peculiar events in this paranormal epicenter.
November 2000: Three people try to survive the weekend when a strange portal opens in the woods near Spivey Point, pulling unsuspecting people inside and letting ghosts roam free. Newly pregnant Jenny fights to find her beloved husband Lance after he vanishes without a trace. Teenage surfer Eric gets a letter from his long-departed father, then finds a vintage surfboard washed ashore, which plunges him into exploring his mysterious past. And Martin, a lonely security guard plagued by mental illness, struggles not to succumb to madness and violence. These three desperate souls cross paths as they try to uncover the secrets of Great Water, where the border between the physical and spirit worlds is frighteningly blurred.
Kings of the Earth is a literary ghost story, a coming of age novel and an exploration of how past events can wreak havoc on the psyches of people trying to survive in a town where no one's future is certain.
Tension develops in the juxtaposition of ordinary external events with the increasingly frantic internal monologues of the protagonists. There is a lingering sense the characters are just slightly out of step with reality. Everything happens very quickly, highlighting the sense of urgency but sometimes breaking the narrative flow. Additionally, the characters’ voices occasionally sound inauthentic; for example, Eric sometimes acts much older or much younger than his age. The best developed (and least sympathetic) character is Martin, and the chapters from his warped perspective will make the reader’s skin crawl.
Stanton builds chilling suspense with atmospheric details and the town’s legends. Elements of psychological horror (bullies, ghosts, child death, murder, molestation) are peppered liberally throughout, with depictions occasionally bordering on graphic but not gratuitous. Though billed as a supernatural thriller, this could just as easily be considered a horror novel, and is best read with the lights on.
Takeaway: Both horror fans and thriller readers will enjoy this dark, richly imagined exploration of fear and loss.
Great for fans of Jonathan Maberry, Kem Nunn.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: B-