Title: Willow Man
Author: John Inman
Narrator: Austin Rising
Publisher: DSP Publications
Run Time: 12 hours and 49 minutes
At a Glance: Will this story be for everyone? Definitely not. But it was certainly for me, and, in my opinion, Austin Rising’s narration brought the perfect eerie quality to this disturbing, dark, scary, and exciting horror story.
Reviewed By: Lindsey
Blurb: Woody Stiles has sung his country songs in every city on the map. His life is one long road trip in a never-ending quest for fame and fortune. But when his agent books him into a club in his hometown, a place he swore he would never set foot in again, Woody comes face to face with a few old demons. One in particular.
With memories of his childhood bombarding him from every angle, Woody must accept the fact that his old enemy, Willow Man, was not just a figment of childish imagination.
With his friends at his side, now all grown up just like he is, Woody goes to battle with the killer that stole his childhood lover. Woody also learns Willow Man has been busy while he was away, destroying even more of Woody’s past. And in the midst of all this drama, Woody is stunned to find himself falling in love – something he never thought he would do again.
As kids, Woody and his friends could not stop the killer who lived in the canyon where they played. As adults, they might just have a chance.
Or will they?
Review: Horror books aren’t usually my thing. Or, rather, I don’t really enjoy horror for the sake of horror. I need a story which has mystery and suspense, one that messes with my head, pushes my boundaries, and gives depth and dimension to everyone, including the baddy. I’d already enjoyed John Inman’s other works, so when Willow Man was first released a few years ago, I gave it a shot. I was super glad I did, as I found the story delivered on all the fronts that I need to stay involved. Then I saw it was out on audio and decided to give it a try, too.
Look, I’ll be honest, this book is not for the faint of heart. It also just may give you weird, gloomy, dreams if you fall asleep listening to it—FYI. Willow Man is friggin’ evil, I tell you. There are things he says, things he does, things I heard in Austin Rising’s Willow Man voice, or his poetic narration, that creeped me the heck out. Things which made my skin crawl and flat out, a few times, made me sick. But, when it is all said and done, Willow Man had depth. He had dimension, and his vileness was brought to life in this audio in a way I don’t think quite hit home with the book when I read it. Don’t get me wrong, the book made me have similar reactions, but the audio narration is a whole ‘nother level.
The story revolves around present day Woody going home for the first time since horrible things happened, things that are alluded to, initially. But as Woody’s past collides with his present, and the longer he is at home, those snippets of memories turn into full flashbacks. For me, flashbacks aren’t always the easiest thing to incorporate into a story; it has to be done a specific way to bring the most out of what I am reading and match the flow and pacing of the story. Lucky for me, in this case it was done so excellently, giving just enough to keep me on the edge of my seat before being thrust back into the present.
Woody reunites with his group of friends as they face the monster of their childhood nightmares. Yes, there is a romantic element, but that isn’t what ultimately captured my attention. The blooming relationship was there in the periphery, and I wanted Woody to experience happiness after all he and his friends had been through. But my focus, and the stories, remained on the wickedness the group faced in the present, and the horrors the five youths, all on the cusp of puberty, encountered that fateful summer that forever changed them all.
I am going to also advise readers who choose to experience this audio: go into it knowing bad things happen, knowing a good chunk is told from the perspective of a bunch of thirteen year olds who face true evil, knowing a portion of the story is told from the perspective of victims and the villain while horrendous things are going on. Boundaries are pushed here. It is not pretty. It is raw and gritty, dark and scary. But it is also thrilling and exciting. Though there are sweet moments, there are absolutely horrific moments, too. If you can handle that, and you enjoy suspense and mystery with some horror thrown in, I am pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.
As for the narration: if you couldn’t already tell, I felt Austin Rising’s voice was flawless for this story. The poetic writing style was brought to life, and he set the perfect tone for the book. I could picture the beauty and darkness of the canyon where so much of the story took place. He brought Woody, Willow Man, and each individual to life and gave them the complexity of emotion I need in my audios. There was an issue for me, but I am not sure it is even a complaint on his narration, as I am pretty sure the choice was intentional and, truthfully, makes sense. See, during the dialogue each individual had a distinct voice fluctuation, and it was clear who was speaking, but not during the narration. There is a clear reason for that choice. The narration of the story is third person omniscient. So, it would make sense when there was no dialogue that all the POVs had the same voice inflection. I will say, though, that a few times it made it difficult to decipher which character’s perspective I was listening to. I found more than once that I thought I was hearing Woody’s viewpoint, but it turned out to be someone else’s. I’m not sure it particularly mattered for the story, though. What mattered was that that specific view was captured.
Will this story be for everyone? Definitely not. But it was certainly for me, and, in my opinion, Austin Rising’s narration brought the perfect eerie quality to this disturbing, dark, scary, and exciting horror story.
You can buy Willow Man here: