ON THE TABLE for this installment we have THE MIRACLE SIN by Canadian author Marcus Hawke (through Blood Rites Horror). Reading the afterward to this book only serves to further warm my early impression of the novel–a SUCCESSFUL display of horror appreciation (ranging from the comedic to the brutal) carried through excellent prose. As with most writers I come across in the writing community, I don’t remember when I first came across Marcus. However, I had caught some posts on his novel and the cover stood out. It’s funny how we decide to read works by indie authors. In the case of Marcus, while searching for something to pick up and dissect, I saw one of his posts urging readers to download his book for free on Kindle in search of reviews. I appreciated the straightforward, open sentiment, and took it a step further by grabbing a physical copy off Amazon. Simply put–through all the stress we endure devising ways to get our work out there, one fact remains: ask, and you shall receive (or not; but best to try). Without adieu, let’s dive in–
Have you ever wondered if there’s more to life? If we are destined for something great, part of a divine plan rather than just subjects of random chaos?
Mason Cole has wondered these things. And he has the answer…
How could that be when his parents were killed in an earthquake that destroyed the city of Jerusalem, yet he alone survived? How could he be destined for great things when he’s stuck in a town-shaped reststop where nothing he does makes a difference? And why would God do this to him in the first place?
Then one day a stranger passes through town, bringing with him a unique explanation of his past, one he never could have imagined, and wishes he could forget. It sounds like something from one of his books, only this time it’s happening to him, and it becomes clear that not every miracle is a blessing. Now, with a red-haired devil hell bent on possessing him for his own sinister gains, Mason must discover the answers to these questions if he ever hopes to survive in a world where the dark no longer hides that which dwells within.
Three acts comprise THE MIRACLE SIN. As the novel features a large supporting cast and a winding story, my intention here is to break the acts to components I can discuss generally in my takeaways.
Act I. (Heaven and Earth; 16 chapters) —
Mason Cole, an eighteen-year-old orphaned by his grandmother, Rose, faces a dead-end life in his slow Ohio town. As his friends Julie and Dale gear to pursue their college experiences, Mason must come to terms with his lack of opportunity as he pumps gas at a local station. All the while silently loving Julie, and struggling to find a way to expose his feelings.
The narrative sets up a convincing and intriguing teen dynamic. Yet, just as the tensions seem set to find catharsis, Hawke allows the horror, which has been writhing through the grass like a snake, to strike and sink its venom into the story.
One night Mason, Julie, and Dale get pulled over by two police officers. Against the teens’ protests, the cops take them to a remote location and hypnotize them, revealing their true identities as operators in a grander scheme.
In this moment Mason reveals a power (that will be explored extensively in the following acts), and he breaks free from the hypnosis that contains him and escapes his captors (more alive than he left them) with his friends.
Mason returns home and finds a man waiting for him (Blake Grimshaw, AKA Grim) with Rose–the same man who came to the gas station earlier that day, who Mason mistook for an evangelical hoping for his spiritual enlistment and immediately forgot about. The following action sees Mason lose every shed of familiarity he has in life, and he can kiss the past goodbye. Central to the cabal of blood suckers that has upended his life is the copper-haired fiend, Novak, in whom Mason can directly ascribe the torching of everything he’s ever known to the ground.
Act II. (Slings and Arrows; 24 chapters) —
The second act finds Mason settling in with the Boston chapter of the Holy Order of Militia Dei, a private sect of the Catholic Church that specializes in the supernatural and occult. Mason discovers that he is the current messiah (the powers of which aided their escape from Novak), a role that has been passed through the generations down a mostly hereditary-based succession. A working class kid from middle America, Mason struggles to accept his reality.
Regardless of what he is willing to accept, however, the group that has taken him in trains him to harness his powers (including, through meditations–the ability to glean entire lifetimes in his mind’s eye by touching another–even if just an amputated finger; access to increased senses and the ability to connect with his surroundings on a metaphysical level; the exhibition of telekinetic capacities; among others) as well as handle himself in clandestine situations (fighting training, workout regiments, etc.).
Following a series of chapters fostering inter-character development and informing Mason (and the reader) of their group’s purpose, the novel shifts back to its central goal of finding Novak.
Act III. (My Thoughts Be Bloody; fifteen chapters) —
The final act provides many revelations of the mythology Grim and the others have provided Mason regarding the mystery surrounding his predecessor and a whirlwind of nail-biting action scenes. To make a (long) story short, I can only imagine the ending suggests that THE MIRACLE SIN is the first in a series.
First off, I love the matte cover–a skull set against a black background framed by a simple yet elegant border, its texture giving the impression of an antiquated volume.
On the writing–
Hawke does a great job of varying sentence structures and utilizing a strong, active voice yet modest vocabulary. You can tell that the book is the end result in a long writing and editing process (congratulations on not quitting, Marcus).
Details are installed in such a way to suggest the reader should already be aware of them, and are soon after expanded upon and clarified (to scratch that itch that makes us wonder if we missed something).
Despite the satirical air that bubbles throughout the narrative, moments that demand a suspension of disbelief do so with ease (I nearly looked up earthquakes in Jerusalem to see if I missed a blaring event in history, only to realize that the compulsion represented a great feat on Hawke’s part).
Also despite this satirical air–and always beneath it, is a seriousness that drives the story. Philosophical questions arise as expectantly as the next joke. Poetic metaphors always find their home. Beautiful descriptions of scenery abound. The nail-biting action, as I described above, can pounce across several pages before you realize how many you have turned.
Coupled with the chapters full of extensive action and dialogue are short moments that, while occupying only a paragraph’s space, do as much to steer the novel as its larger counterparts–resulting in a great variety of chapter lengths and densities.
I consider THE MIRACLE to be a long book at 462 pages, and, within this huge bracket of space, Hawke covers as much ground as possible without veering away from the story completely–as though applying more relish in its composition than a following a strict adherence to following the arc of the underlying storyline (Mason’s reflections on his former life, drama between team members, acceptance of our current position versus where we had originally imagined ourselves winding up, etc.).
Regarding the issue of authorial intervention, I believe Hawke takes a hands-off approach on editorializing what the reader should be believing as they read. While faith and religion play a heavy hand in the story, the scales shift according to what the characters are experiencing–there are no total claims brought on by the author. That said, there are plenty of amusing sacrilegious moments as well as thoughtful moments of reverence. The shifting tides of Mason’s faith really help bring the story to life.
Movies, TV, etc. reminiscent of THE MIRACLE SIN in some way: Rocky, The Boys, Karate Kid, Fright Night, Underworld, The Matrix, X-Men.
I don’t have much blaring criticisms for THE MIRACLE SIN; in fact, many of the stories strengths seem to work against themselves. Carrying confidence through strong writing, the novel feels to be a well-crafted work by an avid horror fan. The unique moments could be conveyed through any genre, but the horror elements seem to be the author’s favorites in the recognized canon of horror. Not to say the novel lacks originality, but rather that the author created the first installment in a greatest hits modern vampire story. That said, I really enjoyed the elements of the vampire story that Hawke chose to run with, and believe that he succeeded in creating his own yarn with them. The story seems to be a collection of individual asides and moments to explore Mason’s developing awareness of his powers.
I’m still having trouble grappling with my opinion on this next detail– while I don’t believe anything should have been cut from the text, it did seem to distract itself from the central storyline. As an introduction to a cast of characters it works exceedingly well. However, at several points I wondered what the story was exactly. The events flowed naturally and at an organic pace, and couldn’t be trimmed and maintain their effect. Despite what I perceived as plot ambiguity, and experiencing the busiest month of the year in the time it took to read the novel, I felt driven to finish and am happy that I finally have.
As I wrote above–THE MIRACLE SIN seems poised as the first in a series, and I hope that this is a decision that Hawke chooses to pursue. Otherwise, looking forward to his next works.
Final Score: 4.5