Fiction - Horror
326 Pages
Reviewed on 09/17/2019
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite

Hellbender by Josh Craven is a supernatural coming of age novel set in the American South following World War II. When a new, unknown pastor takes the helm as a guest preacher at Jade City Assembly of God, following the death of the church's predecessor, young Bobby Graywood immediately senses that something is severely amiss with Newton Hellbender. There is much afoot in Jade City, Texas, with the mayoral elections coming into full swing. On the surface, Bobby is a normal teenager who loves to play baseball, harbors a crush on a girl, and mows lawns for his neighbors. Underneath, however, he has seen and experienced more than any 15-year old could. His father was killed in the way his friends have died, and he's witnessed Hellbender—a man who hides his hands under a pair of gloves like Bobby does too—shape-shift into a reptilian creature and do unspeakable things.

Josh Craven has taken the wholesomeness of a pre-1950s Americana and added supernatural zest with Hellbender. The novel immediately introduces the pastor and our teen protagonist and quickly moves to unveil Jade City and its collection of inhabitants. The horror element is fantastic, with Craven skilled enough to peel away the layers with particularly well-done pacing and provide a narrative laden with dark humor. The most fascinating characters to me were the pedophile deacon and his lesbian wife, stuck in an unfortunate (for them) marriage where they unhappily play beards for one another. The combination of a demonic takeover on what otherwise feels like Main Street, USA, and an unlikely teenage boy with his own issues set to stop them makes for an exciting blend. An excellent new novel for lovers of horror and historical-style fiction.

Lit Amri

“His jaw fell open, and row upon row of needle-like teeth unfolded from the top and bottom like a thousand snake fangs. His tongue crawled over the needle-teeth and squirmed across the open air until it touched Bobby’s cheek. Then it slithered around his neck. Bobby was powerless to resist as the tongue pulled him into Hellbender’s mouth, past the scraping needle-teeth tearing at his skin, until there was nothing but darkness, hot breath that smelled of maggoty meat, and pressure." Jade City, summer of 1946. Fifteen-year-old Bobby Graywood, who lives with his widowed mother, has a supernatural condition that he called an Affliction, which requires him to wear gloves most of the time. Between baseball, his friendship with a Cajun, and pining after a girl, Bobby is unnerved by the arrival of a new, mysterious pastor.

Josh Craven’s Hellbender is a supernatural horror tale in which an awkward teen might be the only hope for a town that is falling under the control of a demonic pastor and his despicable sidekick. How can young Bobby prove there’s a horrifying evil that needs to be stopped? The late '40s setting easily gives the story a nostalgic feel to it and I got swept away fairly quickly by the characters’ ordeals, particularly Bobby’s. Well-paced and with clear writing, Craven deftly builds those suspenseful and horrific moments to terrify and pull readers into the story further at the same time. The combination of sick individuals and an evil being will leave even the most seasoned horror fans on edge. Hellbender is a scary and entertaining read with a well-deserved epilogue; a commendable work from Craven.

Rabia Tanveer

Hellbender by Josh Craven is the story of a 15-year-old boy named Bobby Graywood who is bitter about life, so life has a whole plan made in retaliation. Bobby lost his father to war and he has some serious questions that he needs to ask the Lord. He has a bone to pick with the Lord as to how Bobby’s life has been a mess for some time. To make matters worse, Bobby has an affliction, a supernatural ability that makes him see things that might be true. However, things take a different turn when a new pastor comes into his town and Bobby has a “vision” about him that is far more questionable than his appearance. The people of his town find nothing odd about the man, but Bobby knows better. Now, he is trying to figure out what is wrong with the new pastor, how he can fight off the threat that seems to be hanging over everyone’s head and ensure that he makes it out alive.

This is a seriously interesting and amazingly written novel that is perfect for readers of all ages. The narrative is sassy (I have no better word to describe it), the dialogues are witty and the characters are so well-developed that I had a hard time hating the villain of the story. This is actually one of the most intriguing and best-written novels I have read so far this year and I have read plenty. Bobby is so funny, sarcastic and memorable. He takes his time, understands the situation, and then makes his move. He has a big adversary to fight and makes sure that all of his ducks are lined up before he takes a shot at the antagonist. This is a brilliant novel and highly recommended.