The Festering Ones by S.H. Cooper begins with nine year old, Faith, accompanying her father to their family’s cabin in the woods for a hunting trip. What is meant to be a bonding experience between father and daughter quickly becomes a traumatic, life-changing tragedy. Faith discovers a forearm and hand sticking out from underneath the ground on their trail. Concerned with what they’d found, Faith’s father tells his daughter to stand back while he investigates. It’s at this point, their worlds are completely shattered. A creature with the head and torso of a nude woman attacks Faith’s father with a writing mass of spindly arms. It envelopes him in its grasp and drags him back into its hold, never to be seen again.
Two hikers find Faith, call the authorities, and reunite her with her family. Faith’s story about the creature is dismissed as the ramblings of a traumatized child. Over the next few decades, Faith tries her best to cope with the loss of her father and the circumstances surrounding his disappearance. She distances herself from her family until her mother dies of cancer. She returns to her hometown to discover her mother had been conducting her own investigation. All her paperwork and research points to a mysterious cult known as The Gathered. Faith uses her mother’s research to continue searching for desperately needed answers, and it leads her down the path of unimaginably horrific cosmic proportions.
This is only a summary of the first chapter of the novella, and it only gets better from there!
S.H. Cooper’s The Festering Ones is a novella, which has no business being a novella. There’s so much Faith discovers in so few pages. The mythos surrounding Gorrorum. The realm of Ibsilyth. The Gathered. It all feels the introduction to a much larger body of work which I am desperately wanting to explore and learn more about. I feel/know The Festering Ones is only the tip of the iceberg, and hopefully, there is more to come in the future from S.H. Cooper.
Going beyond the mythos and back-cover plot summary, The Festering Ones is carried by the main character, Faith, who is meant to be the “everywoman” type of character getting wrapped up in circumstances beyond reality and comprehension. Faith is the vehicle through which the audience learns about the world. We follow her on her journey, get to understand her thoughts and feelings and watch her react to the revelations she uncovers. She’s a believable character with flaws, fears, and weaknesses. She is also brave and courageous when the situation calls for it. She takes charge when needed and isn’t afraid to make tough decisions. She expresses remorse and guilt, which makes her human. She’s a well-balanced character which plays off well with the varied cast of side characters which I cannot mention much about due to spoilers. Needless to say, these other characters feel unique, have their own voice, wants, and desires, and push the story forward with each interaction.
While I clearly enjoyed the novella, it does, unfortunately, have flaws. Mainly, the beginning of the story felt rushed. Faith’s life-changing event, the inciting incident for everything to come, happens within the first three pages of the novella. While I do understand this is only the introduction to the story, the beginning of something cosmic and all-encompassing on a level beyond comprehension, I do feel as if there was a missed opportunity to set an even darker tone for the story and flex more of the horror aspect onto the story. For example, details about Faith wandering around in the woods after her father’s abduction would have added a little more flavor into the story. Hearing sounds in the woods. Footsteps. Feeling eyes upon her. Thinking the creature which took her father is hunting her down. Getting lost in the woods. Feeling hungry and thirsty. Fearing she’s alone and won’t be found.
Additionally, there’s the ending. My initial reaction was feeling it was abrupt and left too much open with relation to the plotlines established. While writing this review, my opinion of the ending changed. I realized the end is only meant to close out one particular plotline of importance to Faith’s story. It left the door wide open for more adventures into the mythos for which I am grateful. However, in comparison to the magnitude of the other revelations within the novella, I understand why I felt unsatisfied with the ending. We know there are much bigger fish to fry, yet I realize and understand Cooper’s choice on the conclusion was the correct one. It made it more personal for Faith.
Overall, the strengths of The Festering Ones outweigh the minor flaws entirely. The meat and potatoes of the story are the juicy chapters between the beginning and the ending. S.H. Cooper established a universe, mythos, and cast of characters that has me hooked and wanting more. I can only hope Faith’s journey is only beginning, and we’re going to get more from this universe.
4.5 out of 5