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Drowned Sorrow by Vanessa Morgan

I remember as a kid reading a YA thriller about some sort of sentient, evil fog that was enveloping and destroying the souls of everyone in a damp New England town. It must have been dreadfully written, but I think I rather liked it, and I’m afraid that memory predisposes me in favor of Vanessa Morgan’s elemental horror/thriller Drowned Sorrow, which runs along more or less the same lines.

Megan Black was a high-powered TV journalist with a seemingly perfect family. But when her son accidentally kills himself during a botched attempt to get her attention, and her husband divorces her shortly thereafter, Megan’s life falls apart. She takes her teenage daughter to a tiny town in the woods, hoping to get away from it all and have a chance to re-bond. But Moonlight Creek turns out to be the home of a sinister, supernatural drowning cult whose victims can never leave.

If that sounds good to you, then chances are decent that you’ll enjoy Drowned Sorrow. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t, the editing isn’t bad, and the plot holes aren’t worse than average for this kind of book. Though there certainly are plot holes, dropped threads, and a slightly cluttered cast of characters, most of whom are just there to get drowned. Morgan sticks tight to her “ominous water” theme, and the technique proves effective. At first I had to laugh a bit—I mean, how menacing can rows of bottled water be?—but by the end I was getting kind of jumpy when I looked at my sink.

The dialogue is certainly a weak point. The younger characters in particular sometimes sound downright wooden, and the pattern of stilted speech is only enhanced by a scattering of odd pop-culture references and miscellaneous slang (“Splitsville”? Really?) that stands out a little too glaringly, serving as a warning to authors who try to force contemporary relevance into works that could just as well be left timeless.

The author’s inclusion of a rather dreadful “alternate beginning” marks a disturbing trend I’ve noticed in self-published books to add in material that didn’t make the final cut. In this case, not only does the inclusion showcase sub-par writing, it also draws attention to the source of a lot of the plot holes—it’s clear that Morgan wrote the book with the alternate beginning, then wrote the completely new beginning and didn’t edit carefully to make sure it fit. Or check that all the references to the old beginning were removed. Or make sure that the Megan who is introduced in the new beginning bears any resemblance to the Megan of the rest of the book. None of these issues would have been so apparent without the inclusion of the alternate beginning, which is just one of many reasons this kind of thing is a bad idea. The place for rough drafts and chopped subplots is, if anywhere, on a website for fans. Not within the book itself.

All that aside, Drowned Sorrow is definitely creepy. Possibly even crawly. I wouldn’t sleep in the same room with it. And in the end, for seekers of a quick read that will give them some chills, maybe that’s all that matters.

Book website: www.drowned-sorrow.com

Llumina Press: www.llumina.com