Like any good book junkie, I waited impatiently for the release of Bentley Little’s most recent book, “The Academy” for months. He is my favorite horror author, and in the top 5 across the board. If you haven’t read his stuff, you are seriously missing out. He is unapoligetically graphic and fantastically horrible. You may find yourself looking away from time to time, desperately trying to dislodge an unwitting image from your head jell-o, but you will always look back. It is impossible not to when you know that what is already nightmarish will only be getting worse. And after you put the book down, you will never be able to look at the mundane minutia of everyday life the same way again.
But.. back to “The Academy."
I was one of the few lucky enough to score an ARC in June or July, so I had the honor of reading the book before my opinion could be tainted by someone else’s review. The tale of how I came to posess the ARC is a fun story in and of itself, but the short version involves an Ebay auction gone horribly awry and myself mildly harassing a fellow bidder for my own selfish gains.
The plot becomes clear fairly early, and key protagonists and antagonists are easily distinguishable. One of the best things about his works as a whole, though, is the tendancy for the lines to be somewhat blurred. There is always enough surreal or supernatural infulence on all of the characters that you feel as though they may be swayed to the dark side at any time and for the most innocuous of reasons. There is just so much of a wrongness to the entire atmosphere of the book that you find yourself waiting (with eager anticipation) for the other shoe to drop.
And drop it does. Repeatedly in fact. A big bonus is that you will be so hooked by page five that even if horror isn’t your genre of choice, you will still be in for a good read.
The basic synopsis of the book surrounds a public high school whose administrators have secretly plotted to attain charter status, seemingly in a bid to escape the mechanisms of the religious zelots pulling the strings at the district. There is the expected level of dissent among the faculty, but needless to say, the charter is approved and the school becomes “The Academy.”
As the school year progresses, supernatural events occur, and the majority of the students and teachers begin to be mysteriously influenced by an unseen malevolent force. The supporters of the charter become more and more cultish, and those opposed find themselves facing deadly consequences. In an attempt to keep order, the principal recruits a nazi-youthish brigade of students to patrol the school and monitor goings-on both on and off campus.
As is to be expected, a group of do-gooders is formed among the teachers and students to get to the bottom of all of the mysterious occurrences. Their own experiences direct them towards the horrible truth; a truth which I will not disclose here. You’ll have to read it for yourself.
Those of you who are already familiar with Little’s work will probably see more than a few parallels between ‘The Academy” and an earlier work “The University.” I am not going to lie to anyone, the latter was definitely the superior book. However, “The Academy” is definitely worth the read. The story is engaging, primarily due to Little’s unapologetically blunt style of horror. My biggest complaint is that the ending is decidedly anti-climactic. After all of the drama and action leading up to it, is seems forced and too easy. You may end up asking yourself ‘That’s it??” It could have used another chapter or two.
But who am I to say what should have been included? I’m merely a humble reviewer. I certainly wouldn’t claim to be able to out Bentley Little Mr. Bentley Little. As always, the man does great work.
With my newly implemented rating system, I would give “The Academy” four out of five stars.