The nuts and bolts of fantasy—the “sword and sorcery” stuff typified by B-movie filmmakers of the 1980s—is often made up of a few familiar building blocks: brave knights, fierce battles, a wee bit of magic, perhaps a dragon or two, a noble quest. There are occasional exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, they are the features that come standard between the covers of a classic epic fantasy novel, and for fans, there’s an undeniable comfort in that.
Abomination, the debut novel from Gary Whitta (screenwriter for The Book of Eli) doesn’t give us all the expected fantasy tropes, but he ladles plenty of familiar ingredients into story that somehow still retains its own unique, unexpected flavor.
The setting is not some fictional realm, but England, circa 888 A.D., a welcome twist that lends a bit of historical heft to the proceedings. The English, led by King Alfred (check your history books!) are struggling to stave off an advance by a mass of marauding, bloodthirsty Norse hordes. Alfred’s high cleric Aethelred has unearthed a set of ancient scrolls that contain powerful black magick—rambling incantations that can transform a living creature into the titular Lovecraftian monstrosity. Aethelred, a bit loony from the side effects of practicing the incantations, desires, against the king’s wishes, to use the dark power as a tool to defeat the Norse. When the cleric goes rogue and creates an entire army of Abominations, he becomes an even greater threat to England’s survival.
Just when you think this four-pronged face-off is going to serve as the main story arc, Whitta throws a curve, relegating the conflict to what is essentially a long prologue. The timeline then jumps ahead, following Alfred’s most loyal knight, the warrior Wulfric. Once part of the abomination-hunting group called The Order, ol’ Wulfric has spent the subsequent 15 years wandering the countryside alone after being cursed during his final encounter with Aethelred. Each night, poor Wulfric transforms into an Abomination. Each night, he must chain himself to a tree to keep himself from going on a bloody rampage—something he cannot always prevent.
Whitta weaves in the story of teenage Indra, a sword-wielding warrior also wandering the countryside, though for her, it’s a solo quest to hunt down and kill an Abomination in order to earn a place in The Order. Indra and Wulfric eventually cross paths, and the remainder of the novel is a tense give-and-take of revelations, self-discovery, and trust, as the two struggle to decide if they’re better off alone or together, even as their fates appear to be aligned beyond their control.
There’s more than enough swordplay and dark magic here to meet the requirements of even the most demanding genre fans, and those with heartier stomachs will appreciate the Abomination-inspired gore and violence throughout, as heads, limbs, and entrails are scattered to the winds and devoured with great frequency. All the blood-and-guts solidify Wulfric’s tortunred soul-searching, and give young Indra considerable pause as she considers the path she wishes to follow.
Abomination is an unexpected love-hate/buddy picture fantasy tale with swordplay, knights, and magic—though one with a heaping helping of many-tentacled, acid-blood-filled, gut-chomping creatures. We’ll take that sequel now.