Goodreads Review: Dolor

DOLOR: Books I-VDOLOR: Books I-V by Rick Florino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rick Florino’s Dolor reminds me a lot of Silent Hill. A very terrible place that you’d never want to visit. But – again like Silent Hill – I find myself drawn to it, and insist on poking all the mysteries and unpleasant secrets that lie beneath the sleepy little town exterior; my sense of warped and morbid curiosity just won’t let these sorts of things lie still.

Dolor: Books I-V is a compendium of the first five books of Dolor (as if that wasn’t apparent enough from the title.) This is true in both the literal publishing sense, and the in-story sense, as each tale is presented as a journal of someone touched by the strangeness, madness and danger that lurks in the city. Each presents a different main character, a slightly different oogity-boogity causing the ruckus, and an appropriately grisly end (though often with a sunshine-and-rainbows “What just happened”) as the wraparound story – an FBI agent exploring the remains of a burned-out house and discovering the journals – grows steadily more bizzarre. It’s got an interesting framework and some good concepts going for it, I’ll say that much.

On the good side:
The wraparound story makes for good presentation – though what’s contained in this volume feels like only half the story, I’d certainly like to hear more – and there’s a certain dreamlike etherealness to the whole affair that seems to suit the mood well. Again, echoes of Silent Hill, with the multiple layers of objective/subjective reality and leaving you wondering just what the hell is going on and how much of it’s real. The feeling that, despite the varying nature of the supernatural threats (including possessed teddy bears, cthonic entities, demon babies and vampires), there’s some link between them and ultimately a singular explanation for the terrible things that happen there is omnipresent. The descriptions of the gore and violence are well done and vivid (a scene where a character is run over by a car left me wincing quite a bit) and the characters, when presented properly, are reasonably entertaining stereotypes of the folks you’d find in a small town that’s still big enough to have class divides and bureaucratic corruption.

On the downsides:
This may be a quibble rather than a genuine downside, but it feels unfinished. The wraparound story has no real resolution, and while the other tales seem to be building towards a final revelation and potential showdown (or at least an apocalypse) it never arrives. It’s possible there are more books of Dolor out there, but I’ve yet to find them, thus giving the impression that this is unfortunately as complete as it’s going to get. If I’m wrong on this count, feel free to point me at the others and I’ll remove this “grr” moment. 🙂

The characters I found to be interesting in concept, but lacking a little in execution. Most seemed to be a little wooden, their speech a little off and “too scripted,” if that makes sense. The recurring character of Caleb feels a little too “Knight in Shining Armor,” naturally immune to all forms of corruption or frustration (at least until the teddy bear starts talking). The “Satanic” characters feel just a little excessive in their stereotypical portrayals (one has pentagrams tattooed all over him, does tons of drugs, participates in orgies and sacrifices infants and children for seemingly no reason other than “just because.” Don’t get me wrong, I like a crazy villain, and crazy cultists are always go-to options, but he felt like a caricature of every parent’s nightmares during that whole “Satan’s Sacrifices” media blitz/scare from fifteen years ago or so.)

The language and technical aspects of the writing felt like they could use a little tuning up; too many run-on sentences, repeated phrasing and repetitive description for my tastes. It doesn’t hurt the overall feel too much, and I still found it enjoyable, but I think if a good editor reamed through this, it could easily have gotten up to four stars.

Lastly, the characters and the town suffer from what I call Sunnydale Syndrome. If the murder and violence rate is so high, and creepy/weird things keep happening, why are these people still here? Sure, the cultists/Satanists might enjoy it, but the normal folks stick around for… what? The rent-controlled housing?

Overall, if you like creepy reads and have an afternoon to spare, Dolor is a decent choice and worth poking at; it left me with more questions than answers and the desire to know more, which is always a positive. With some edits, some tweaked dialogue and a more believable villain, the score could be higher, but don’t take the 3 stars as an indication of “trash.” It’s still fun. Or as Stephen King might put it: “It can be set aside with a smile, and called trash. But not bad trash.”

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