EVEN THE PUREST EVIL HAS A HISTORY
In 2017, an author flees the accursed London streets of Fitzmarbury, terrified and fearing for his life. In an isolated Barbados redoubt – on wild Atlantic shores – the author’s mind and writings are haunted. Cruel voices speak horrifying revelations. A vast storm approaches as another visitor to Bathsheba – a presence – stalks him in the darkness.
A NEW DARKNESS AT THE WORLD’S EDGE
A ruthless priestess of Baal sails from imperial Carthage, sixty years after the fall of King Leonidas and the Spartan 300. She is a hardened warrior, wrenched from the only love she ever knew and raised in merciless service to Baal. Her iron heart holds the secrets of a young girl trafficked across the Sahara from the decaying Egyptian city of Sekht-Am (Siwa). Ever threatened by the scandal of her origins, she proves herself by embarking on a series of violent missions. Once again, she is sent from Africa – this time to penetrate new frontiers at the edge of the world, in ancient Britain. Will she follow orders and fiercely carve a place for Baal in Baratanac? Or will she find reasons to claw back her humanity?
Baratanac (Part I) is the first in a series known as the Fitzmarbury Witches. This initial installment is a complex novel which opens up on a young writer in Barbados. Haunted by a supernatural entity, Declan seeks refuge on the island while working on a book that is dictated to him by malignant, otherworldly beings. Writing for him is not a choice, it is a compulsion. Declan struggles to combat the powerful evil that pursues him while doggedly attempting to complete his book in order to make his truth known.
The majority of the story is centered on Declan’s manuscript which describes the origin of the malevolence that plagues him. Readers are transported to ancient Carthage to learn of the merciless cultural practices that took place and of the priestess Emeshmoon, a woman who was taken from her home as a child and ruthlessly trained to be a religious emissary in service to the god Baal.
Baratanac is a debut novel different from any I’ve read before (this is also mentioned by another in the foreword, but if it’s true, it’s true, right?); for that reason I really struggled to write a review that would do it justice. It is not without its flaws, but the beauty of the writing - despite much of the unsavory and horrific content - is undeniable, and the intricacy of the plot and detailed descriptions are truly praiseworthy.
The plot’s strengths could also be called its weaknesses: the sheer scope means that the writing is often tangential and at times difficult to follow - sometimes it was a struggle to determine if what was happening was current, recollected, or in the past. Swales lays out fascinating and vivid explanations of rituals, cultural practices, and political ambitions among the different people of ancient Africa which at once captivate and challenge the reader to keep up with the barrage of information. In several instances there are lengthy geographic details that can become tedious if the reader is not predisposed to such knowledge.
Overall, Baratanac is an admirable piece of work. It is clear that Swales’s own unique personal experiences and extensive traveling, paired with his evocative writing style, have come together to create something wholly original. If you are a fan of ancient history, supernatural horror, and don’t mind a little heavy-handedness when it comes to description, this book is certainly worth your time.
Horror, thriller/suspense, and mystery are my areas of reviewing expertise, although like most dedicated readers I'll delve into (nearly) anything with a great plot. I love being a reviewer and having the chance to interact with talented writers as well as help their stories gain exposure.