Have you ever experienced a reoccurring dream or nightmare? If you haven’t then I find that odd. Most of everyone has experienced this type of dream. When I was a child, I had one such reoccurring nightmare. I would be walking to elementary school down the alley next to the house. With each step, the ground cracked like it was thin ice. I’d take off running, but it didn’t matter, the ground would disappear from under me and I’d fall. I’d fall on spikes and wake up just before they punctured my skin. It lasted until I graduated high school.
The main character, Jake, in Alice J. Black’s The Devil’s Playground suffers from a reoccurring nightmare. It stems from the mysterious disappearance of his father, but it doesn’t stop at his high school graduation, it sticks with him throughout the rest of his life. The best thing in the character’s life happens: he gets engaged with the love of his life, Sam. Then the worst thing in Jake’s life happens: he suffers an accident that lands him in a coma. Even worse, he’s stuck inside that reoccurring nightmare, the Devil’s Playground.
What follows next is one of the most intense adventures that a character can experience. While Jake is in the playground, Sam also goes through the very real experience of dealing with the aftermath. Her fiancé is in a coma, there’s suddenly a void in her life. Black crafts such an interesting story that makes you want to read both character’s story arcs. Even though Jake’s fate will sometimes hang in the balance, the section changes and the reader is equally fascinated with the emotional journey of Sam.
Without giving anything away, one of the most interesting parts of the story is the Devil’s Playground itself. Jake awakens to find himself literally in a living Hell. The reaction after Jake realizes that he is not actually dreaming is priceless, but it’s just one of the many things that make this story memorable. The Playground is filled with grim versions of reality, sadistic hallucinations, and the bloodthirsty creatures that inhabit it.
That’s where the book shines. When Jake’s section begins there is this buildup of tension and dread that will either payoff or cliff hang. The novel transitions to the emotional wreck that is Sam. This both allows the reader some time to calm themselves and to push Jake to the back of their minds while they sympathize with Sam and her feelings of utter hopelessness. Of course the novel will transition back to Jake’s story and the tension will begin to rise again.
As a horror writer, even I had moments when I’d hear a noise outside and develop uneasy feelings. There was one such moment where I had to put aside the story and listen for the source of the noise. This was the first time in a very long time that I’ve been creeped out by a novel.
The nice thing about this novel is that it doesn’t focus on blood, gore, foul language, or sexual content like most of the horror genre of our times. Yes, the Devil’s Playground does contain scenes where there is blood and gore, but it’s a practical use to them. Black isn’t excessive with the usage of them.
If there was one thing that I did not like about The Devil’s Playground it’s that not everything is explained. The reader is wanting more. Which, admittedly, is not a terrible thing because there is definitely room for a sequel should the author desire to continue on with the story.
If you’re a fan of horror, thriller, or dream novels then this is one for you to read. It can be found on Amazon.com as well as www.burningwillowpressllc.com.