Hell Fighters (2021) Review
Written By: Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Author: Bil Richardson
Publisher: Mountain Media
Release Date: September 20, 2021
Rating: 4/5 Graves
After moving to Arkham, Massachusetts, for a university position, Dr. Max Heller quickly realizes that the area isn’t quite the sleepy, isolated New England town he might have been expecting. Instead, the area seems to be in the thrall of devastating forces beyond human understanding that would love nothing more than to escape unbidden into Heller’s dimension to wreak havoc and destruction. Fortunately, a local group known as the Hell Fighters have been preparing for this for some time.
Though gore isn’t an overwhelming part of this book, Richardson makes it count when it is featured. His strength lies in extremely effective body horror with a focus on external parasites and unusual and haunting otherworldly eyes.
The Grave Review
Hell Fighters takes a fresh look at traditional New England horror and breathes some much needed life into it: the subgenre of weird horror/fiction. Max Heller’s exploration into the weird wilderness near Arkham, Massachusetts fits neatly into narratives both suggested by weird fiction authors of the general region (such as H.P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood) and the unusual campfire tales real New Englanders are apt to know and tell amongst themselves, like that of the Bridgewater Triangle.
A major strength of Hell Fighters is how it handles the subgenre itself. Weird fiction is definitely one that is beset by tropes, and Richardson sidesteps them all gracefully. Though he works with the expectations for the subgenre, he also subverts or pushes them to the next shocking and satisfying steps to create a story that feels like it’s both paying homage to what has preceded it while also going in a new, refreshing direction. Elements I appreciated especially were the characters’ desire to learn about what they were dealing with and the wide variety of resources they could draw on: traditional witch and wiccan behavior and knowledge, Native folklore (that actually indicates that serious research was done by the author himself!), and more, and the time spent on the multidimensional horrors. Sometimes I find weird horror frustrating because many authors will follow the Lovecraft example of shying away from showing or telling too much. Richardson does a great job of indulging in the horror, especially body horror, while reminding the reader a few times that what they are witnessing through the characters is still only a sliver of what horrors await. He manages an effective balance between the knowing and the unknowing.
The large cast of characters is also, for the most part, a boon and an interesting change of pace from many other weird horror pieces I’ve read in the past. Main character Heller is an interesting fellow—to the point where I’m wondering if I’ve started in the middle of a series about him—but his acquaintances are varied in personality and background, to the point where there’s bound to be someone you get attached to, if even Heller doesn’t grab you right away. Richardson explores almost every character’s background and gives them their times to shine, so while meeting so many characters at once can initially feel overwhelming, you can pick up on who’s who naturally. The only downside of this large group is that when the story begins approaching its climax and you’re still meeting a new character here and there and sometimes still getting detailed backstories or secondary- or tertiary-character-specific interludes, it can feel like a struggle between the impressive depth of the world and the burgeoning action.
Ultimately, Hell Fighters is a many-layered mix of horror and action, a great read for those familiar with the subgenre and those who are looking for new horror in general. This book would also serve as a comprehensive introduction to weird fiction in general, letting new readers understand the basic landscape of the subgenre in an unintimidating way while simultaneously showing them the ways a story like this can be pushed beyond its perceived limits.
For the foregoing reasons, Grave Reviews gives Hell Fighters four out of five graves.
Hell Fighters by Bil Richardson can be ordered here.
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Thank you so much for your kind words about my work. It was a blast playing in the mind-bending world Lovecraft created and I think readers will have as much fun reading this book as I did writing it.