A haunted hotel in the highlands of Scotland? Sign me up! But seriously, if you know of any, I'd like to know about them for real and I will be on the next flight out! Not that I'm looking for an excuse to go to Scotland or anything. . .
The Ballador Country House Hotel is such a great setting, I felt that it almost had to be based on something real, or at least some really great stories of a real place. Some spooky castle somewhere, shrouded in mystery, perhaps?
In any case, people go to the Ballador because they want to be scared, they want to experience nightmares. In fact, it is guaranteed depending on which room you are staying in.
But for the recent widower Victor, the dreams are nightmarishly real and the spirits of the Ballador seem to be targeting him specifically. Victor comes to the hotel because his wife made him a reservation, right before she brutally killed herself with a handgun.
His right-hand man Harry doesn't feel quite right about the situation and begins digging into the hotel's past while Victor becomes ensconced in a nightmare world that blurs the lines between good and evil, right and wrong.
This quick but fully engaging read held my interest from start to finish. I was pleased with the dialogue and the overall voice of the book, which is consistent and well-developed. Though it could use another round of proofreading for technical errors and US/UK standardization, the story is solid and I fell into the narrative quite easily.
There are definitely some Lovecraftian influences here, especially towards the end when the walls between our world and the nightmare world collapse, letting a sort of hell realm expand out into the Ballador.
Dreams can be a tricky concept to maneuver and I think McNee has done a great job navigating readers through scenes of mixed reality. I never felt confused about what was physically occurring versus what might only be happening inside Victor's mind—and that's quite a task especially as that wall turns into a fluid curtain and then disappears entirely.
This book also has an interesting underlying commentary on what ghosts are and how they haunt us. For most guests of the hotel—the amateur ghosthunters or thrill-seekers—the nightmares were brought to them by actual spirits, as in, the nightmares are visions of actual hauntings. Some guests even seem to collect these nightmares like some kind of masochistic trading cards.
This is a bit different from what we normally think of as ghosts, which are apparitions we see, sense, or otherwise get scared by while fully awake. At the Ballador, you have to be asleep for the ghosts to get you.
This difference in the state of the psyche is important to the book, because it is ruminating on how our unconscious mind rules us and what goes on within our mind when we aren't fully there. What do our unconscious thoughts, dreams, and nightmares say about us? What do we remember of what happens when we shut our eyes? What do we not remember? And what might linger on?
Most importantly, this horror novel is a rollicking good time. It has great descriptions, sometimes overly descriptive in that great pulpy way—not over-doing it or anything, but giving you all the gory details, for sure. It's a fun read with plenty of surprises and I can't guarantee you sweet dreams at the finish.
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Find out more about the author, John McNee
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Find out more about the publisher, Blood Bound Books
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.