I find myself in a little bit of a troubling place in reviewing this work. On the one hand, it is a well-written and effective story. Characters are well-rounded, and the detail is ample and very descriptive. However, this certainly isn’t a novel that will find traction among the general public. It is a very violent work, and although that in itself is not detrimental, I found the violence to be at such a high level that I know it will, for some readers, over shadow every other aspect of the book.
The immediate comparison for me is the TV show “Dexter.” The book follows a police officer in possession of a mythical hatchet which he uses to cut murderers and rapists into quivering cubes of flesh. Now, I never enjoyed the TV show “Dexter” because I thought it was too watered down for a televised audience. In fact, I think that show might be socially irresponsible because it shies away from the darker side of its own subject matter. Essentially, you can’t be true to the concept of a “heroic” serial killer unless you make that character so repugnant that no viewing audience would ever want to witness the chronicle of his/her life.
All that being said, “Ways of theStygia” does embrace the true, horrific character of both its protagonists and antagonists. I recognize that it gives exactly what I thought I wanted when I gave up on “Dexter,” and still I find I had a hard time with it.
I think part of the problem, for me, was that it was a lot of “vengeance” killing. You hear about the victims that are tortured, and then the perpetrator is tortured, but I found I was left feeling hollow by the consequences. I would have preferred that somebody saved the victims from their anguish. Actually, the book leads to a pretty interesting exercise in reflecting on your own sense of entertainment versus moral justice. The sad reality is that there are a lot of situations that you encounter in your life in which justice may be served, but there is no redemption to be found in that justice.
Honestly, I don’t know exactly what to think about this book. The storytelling is vivid and it keeps you engaged, but there are so many consecutive bleak moments that are bearable only with the specter of vengeful retribution awaiting on the horizon. Perhaps I’m fortunate in my life to be able to insist on something beyond vengeance as a driver for continuing my own life journey. Still, I have been in a mental state where a book such as this would have been exactly tailored to my tastes. The thing is, I have learned to skirt that mental state, and I’m not sure “Ways of the Stygia” will take you out of that mental state (presuming that’s your ambition).
There is certainly an audience for this book, but I wouldn’t call it a widely commercial endeavor. It is true to its own sensibilities, however, and that alone is somewhat refreshing. I’m not sure whether it would be compromise for Donny Swords to try his hand at something a touch more conventional. He’s certainly a talented writer and I’d be interested to hear his comments on issues that are maybe slightly less radical than what’s contained in “Stygia.”
So I recommend giving this book a try, but just be aware that it achieves a level of violence I found disturbing, and I’m the type of guy who giggles through a film like “Robocop.” Pick up a copy here.