Special thanks to Tenebrous Press for the ARC copy they provided.
I picked up Dehiscent on a Wednesday, and by Thursday night, I was done reading it, staring at my Kindle and wondering where the BLEEP the rest of my story was. If that isn’t enough of a compliment, I don’t know how to write a better one. For me there have always been two kinds of books: the ones that you wish would end, so you can move on to something more interesting, and the ones you can’t get enough of. Dehiscent is definitely one of the latter.
“The house provides.” It’s funny how those simple words take on such intricate and varied meanings throughout this book of subtle climate horror. I don’t think once during my read I was horrified, or felt the creeping crawl of the usual expectant dread I associate with reading a well done horror novel. No, Dehiscent’s horror is much subtler and more intuitive. If you’re not looking for it in the cracks between words and the breaks separating paragraphs, you won’t find it.
But if you’re patient and persistent and allow Ashley Deng’s words to swallow you whole, you’ll see the horror waiting there for you in the open mind and generous heart of Dehiscent’s young protagonist.
I am a fan of subtle horror, the kind you almost miss, only to go back and read a passage over, to be sure you did just read what you thought you just read, and this book provides that brand of horror. “The house provides. It just needs some care and maintenance.” Those lines are a repeated refrain throughout Dehiscent, and the chill that resonates through them, by the end of this book, is real and delicious.
Dehiscent is set in a future where humanity has taken from the world until the world fell out of balance, and society collapsed under the wait of its unbalanced world. Life is scarce, and death encroaches from all sides, threatening to swallow what life remains.
Except in the house of Zhu.
In the Zhu house, the cycle works in reverse, and death feeds into life in a disturbing, yet not utterly unnatural way. Dehiscence is the splitting of a mature plant structure along a built-in line of weakness, to release its contents. This process is common in fruit, and is one way a plant releases its seeds in effort to repopulate.
The Zhu house feeds on death in a dying world, but the house is not dead. It, and those it nurtures, are bits of life, clinging to a decaying world in need of resurgence. The house, and the family of Zhu, are like a seed pod. Whether that pod experiences dehiscence is up to Yi Zhu, the book’s main character.
And the question of if death or life is fed is not answered at the end of Dehiscent. The book seems to cut off with so much more story to be told, but ends exactly where it means to and precisely where it should. Ashley Deng leaves the ultimate decision of outcome to the reader, and that is also something I admire in a work of horror.
Or any work.
All around, Dehiscent is a fine book, and I look forward to having a physical copy in my hands after its release. Tenebrous Press has found its own dedicated section on my bookshelf, and Dehiscent definitely has a place waiting for it in my new weird horror collection.