Eyes of The Bersai, by J.D Phillips: A Review

July 17, 2011

Arts & Literature, Reviews

By Alex Mcdermott:

In the world of horror, there is a new subgenre that seems to thoroughly throw people for a loop. Dark fiction has become the new term for literary horror- books and movies that just don’t fit into the splatter and gore mold but are too creepy for science-fiction or fantasy. What defines dark fiction? Why is one book fantasy and another this new, mysterious dark fiction? To this avid horror reader, it’s dark fiction if it gives you the creeps. Eyes of The Bersai: The Relic by J.D Phillips is, for the most part, a fantasy story complete with winged creatures and ancient bloodlines. It doesn’t stop there though and Phillips constructs a good creepy tale of murder, vengeance and rage.

The story begins with a letter from an ancient race of beings. The letter describes a paradise coming to an end as time moves on. In a dramatic shift, the narrative then jumps forward to the violent, dark world of humanity. Phillips does an excellent job in bringing this world to life with its sordid nightclubs, dead bodies, and stench of human filth that oozes from the pages. For example, when Ella, a police officer, searches for her sister in the underworld goth club The Haven, the phantoms and near-dead crawled off the pages. I kept glancing over waiting for the shadow deep in the corner to move unexpectedly!

The tension between hunter and hunted, human and Bersai, intensifies as the story progresses and for me, this is a critical factor in the dark fiction label. It’s a classic battle between the ‘monster’ and human beings out to destroy it. We didn’t understand Frankenstein and so we destroyed it. Phillips creates this same conflict in the character of Mirra. A hunter by trade, she begins to see the dark truths in the ‘war’ against the Bersai. Her belief in the cause is shattered by harsh realities that really reminded me of the political cover-ups in Iraq and Guantanamo recently. Mirra’s story is disturbing and deeply unsettling without falling back on the gore and splatter cliché.

Phillips drives home the suffering and pain of these ancient creatures in just a few short lines in Chapter sixteen. Their magnificent wings have been cut off, destroyed or withered through evolution. Mirra, in a moment of tenderness, asks a Bersai if his back hurts where the wings once were. He says yes and Phillips describes an “aching in the spine where the bones had been unnaturally torn away, his body’s instinctual impulses to flex muscles that were no longer able to be used.” These creatures were hunted, tortured and nearly destroyed like so many other things humans fear or hate or both. Phillips shows us the depth of their agony and that draws us closer to their rage and fear.

The blend of fantasy and horror elements is not going to appeal to readers looking for a more straightforward monster story. The Bersai are closer to mythological creatures than the classic vampire or werewolf. This is definitelydark fiction and not horror. Phillips is also building a world for the readers and he fills it with a lot of characters. For most of the chapters the narrative shifts to a different character’s point of view. This is confusing until the storylines begin to cross but by that time it’s easy to lose some details.

Overall, I’m giving this 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a well-written story with rich characters and Phillips does a good job at making us believe in her creatures, her world, and her work.

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