REVIEW: Until The Sun by Chandler Morrison
ECR reviews UNTIL THE SUN by Chandler Morrison, published by Death's Head Press, 2019. 407 pages. A take on modern vampires that harbors a dark need for revenge that's colder than a mink glove and cooler than being cool. This book is ICE COLD. Buy it for the cover, read it for the wild ride. Since it's told mostly in the second person present-tense, the whole narrative unfolds like a wickedly cool Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story involving bloodshed, bacchanalia and immortality. Deep down this is a post-transgressive crime story wrapped in a familiar yet unsettling cape of horrors.
You are a despondent and angsty teenager living in Ohio, and one night you go downstairs to find a trio of vampires devouring your foster family. They sense the darkness inside You and instead of bleeding you dry, these pallidly seductive ghouls invite you to hang out.
"Tell me, kid...would you like to live…deliciously?”
“You stole that from a movie,” you say.
He shrugs. “So what. It’s fitting.”
“I don’t have much desire to live at all. Deliciously or not."
Thus begins Chandler Morrison's Until the Sun.
What begins as a fun little Near Dark-style romp soon reveals its genre defying quirks, like Vampires who eat waffles and guzzle bourbon as well as blood. And for your part, You the reader, as well as You the character are more than happy to join in. However these three club members aren't ready to hand over the decoder ring quite yet. They must get the approval of Ambrosio, the all-powerful leader of the gang. When you point out that the other's speak of him as a God, the green eyed temptress Erzsebet says, "No, he's something much worse..."
Author Morrison does an excellent job running out the string of events and populating the world with interesting characters. Varney, a knowing throwback to Bram Stoker, is Ambrosio's active lieutenant and is the one who takes you under his wing. Varney comes across as part Gary Oldman's Dracula and part 1977-1980 Freddie Mercury. He introduces you to the crew of Mircalla, a young man who considered himself when alive as a practical "non-binary gender-fluid two-spirit pansexual," and of course Erzsebet. Soon you are wickedly whisked away to home base (which is a giant surreal mansion) in a hauntingly cool Rolls Royce Phantom. The rules of their vampirism are sorta-kinda-hashed out, with the almost ubiquitous fresh wrinkles to the familiar legends. The one truth remains that sunlight is a major no-no. If they are to continue existing they must remain in shadows...forever.
From this point on there be SPOILERS, consider ye self alerted!
Each gang member explains that just like You--they too were all once damaged goods. As you learn how each of the gang individually came to meet Ambrosio, you Yourself begin to hallucinate scenes from your own twisted history. Your real parents were murdered by a serial killer named Sterling McPleasant, nicknamed the Mudhoney Murderer--a man as notorious as Ted Bundy and worse, he's never been caught. Your new pseudo-friends seem to have it all, no rules, a cool ride, a posh crib, and a limitless wardrobe of which you are allowed to browse at will. What more could a young teenager want--oh yeah, it soon becomes very apparent that getting libidinously sweaty in groups of writhing bodies is just one of this exclusive club's perks. Scenes of robust fornication aside, there is a hollowness to them. A cool detachment that brims throughout.
You soon have to prove your worthiness to the others. In a scene reminiscent of a Los Angeles summer night in the year of our lord 1969, you and the other three invade a home of a fairly wealthy family. This home invasion soon devolves into a mock trial with the gang serving as judge, jury and executioner for Mr. and Mrs. Piggy. Red Flag Alert! After murdering and gorging on the fresh blood Erzsebet reenacts the bathtub scene from Andy Warhol's Dracula, vomiting up the dark kroovy and basically repainting the room. When the others copy her, You ask if this is par for the course. She informs you that if Ambrosio decides to turn You into one of the undead, you'll get to spend the rest of eternity puking up your guts, because of some nonsense about the dead body rejecting living blood. But hey it's okay since the big man, Ambrosio, himself doesn't drink it anymore, he's that powerful. When the murder wakes up the children, the gang's rampage chillingly happens offstage. When You are visibly shaken by the events of the night, Varney expounds on his justifications of murder. This passage will delight horror fans and repulse every one else. The all out slaughter is pretty visceral and stomach churning.
Hey Siri! Play vampire murder-spree playlist containing mostly deep cuts from The Cure.
As the story unfolds the body count increases and You find yourself being completely under the group's influence, especially as they target folks who desperately deserve their murderous treatment. You begin to feel like this motley crew of oversexed vampires could help you finally track down the man responsible for the murder of your parents. You plan your revenge.
But not before an elongated flashback sequence. You recall an ominous figure, The Grinning Man and his prophecy looms over you the rest of the way. Your memory sends you back to the sunlit days of your past where you lounged poolside with your cousin, Mara. And slowly, yet painfully, fall in love with her. Gross. Like I said earlier, you are damaged goods. We get to share your first sexual experience with a jaded young lady who quips, "Virgins in L.A. are less common than free parking." There's drug abuse, suicide attempts, hiding under beds, impotent rage, rapey strangers, strange white knights, and of course the death of someone special. All the things necessary to help flesh out YOUR character and tip the plot towards a climax. Every book is only as good as its weakest parts, and with that said this book as a whole is pretty damn strong. It's written with a breezy simplicity that also provides equal parts depth and color. The structural design of the overall story is well crafted enough, that as problems mount each other like rabbits in the wild, the reader YOU have no choice but to see if you're gonna survive the ordeal.
After the extended interlude, we're back with the ass-kicking vampires. And asses are kicked. The others accept you into their ranks and now it's time to join them. But behold a twisty plot twist which amps up the already throbbing classic cool factor more than a leather jacket, blue jeans and red pumps. The entire last quarter shifts gears so righteously I can only say that this beast delivers solid gold. And when it arrives it's devastating.
As much as I would love to spoil the rest of the story for you, I'm just gonna grin wide and stop here. Let's just say that the set-up and the harrowing climax are one helluva journey, one well worth whatever your price of admission. One thing that runs throughout the piece, is humor. There are ironic and unironic moments that I found myself literally laughing out loud, wedged of course between the blood soaked killings. Mr. Chandler takes many knowing nods at the reader as the story wallows around in its own depravity--these moments serve as a tongue-in-cheek wink-wink nudge-nudge much needed release from the brutality. It swings effortlessly between lite-hearted pulp and deadly serious as smoothly as the pendulum in the pit. While this book is admittedly not for readers of the cozy or Good Housekeeping, although they should give it a try, it hits the right buttons for fans of transgressive literature. UNTIL THE SUN is overflowing with enough quality cheap thrills to keep us turning pages and we think it'll have the same effect on you.
Kudos to Death's Head Press for publishing such a fine piece of dark lit. And Kudos to Chandler Morrison for having the stones to write it down in the first place. I recommend this novel, with my whole heart and lung. As far as vampire stories go in the 21st Century, this one grabs Twilight by the throat and scratches an itch. Pick up your copy here.
Also be sure to check out Death's Head Press and their other offerings. If you enjoy transgressive stories of the bizarre and horrific they are putting out some of the best.
I purchased this title on a complete whim, because I appreciate the work of Death's Head Press and the cover caught my eye. After I finished reading the book I wanted to add some biographical info on Mr. Morrison for the review here. While scouring the internet, I discovered something more unsettling than anything present in his book.
Our hearts go out to you Mr. Morrison wherever you are. ECR hopes that your days are filled with Quality Thrills, and while we haven't gotten the opportunity to ever speak personally, please know that a total stranger enjoyed your time and effort very much. Your talent is beyond bright. May it brighten the lives of others for many years.
Keep Up The Good Fight,