Well, I’m sweating beads. Profusely. And I’m grateful that I’m sweating beads rather than smelling my own flesh melt. To step into Matthew Danza and Adam Horeth’s Always Scream Fire, which is the sequel to their just as nightmarish Always Yell Fire, is to step into something akin to what you’d imagine hell to be like. Truly. Ash, fire, and screams is how this story begins after a short bedtime story is told by a little girl to her mother. In this bedtime story, a little girl starts developing an appetite for eating ashes. Burning her dolls and eating the ashes thereof was only the beginning.
Severely injured, Alex has been trapped in a world of ash and fire for a long time. He has yet to find a way out. There are newcomers now. Possible new victims of their own guilt – or that of somebody else – in this hell. The first newcomers that Alex encounters is a woman called Denise and a girl called Sam, Denise’s daughter. Grace DiPerrio, the second newcomer, works for the FBI. It is from Grace, who has made recordings in the real world, that Alex finally learns that he is still alive and that he, like several other victims, is in a coma. One of Grace’s recordings reveals something alarming. The radius from a burned Californian town called Collinwood Valley that places comatose victims in this world of ash and fire is growing.
When we first meet Alex, he is drifting in a sea of fire and ash. The first few paragraphs of the first chapter perfectly outlines the hell – or Daniella’s hell as readers are likely to start thinking of it – that Alex is trapped in. The constant raining ash and fiery walls there to remind him that Daniella, who has grown quite powerful, has him trapped in her sorrow. Going back to the prologue in which Daniella told her mother that horrific bedtime story of hers, readers will recall how, after the little girl in the story burned her dolls, her insatiable appetite for the sorrow of the guilty developed.
“Do you enjoy stealing from women and little girls?” This may come as a shock to readers who’ve already met Alex in Always Yell Fire, but yes, when he first meets Denise and her daughter Sam, he attempts to rob them. The ash and fire world has changed Alex. His behavior has become almost like that of the ash people, the inhabitants of Daniella’s hell and the physical form of the guilt belonging to the real people trapped inside it. Something about Alex: his name is not really that. Alex, that is. Actually Eliot Orosco, he is vague about his preference to be called Alex when inquired about it.
Denise had an opprobrious husband called Dom and she doesn’t want him to get his hands on Sam. Giving the trio of Alex, Denise, and Grace at least somewhat of a plan to execute, Sam has gone missing and they set out to find her. Dom, who is looking for Sam as well, is always a constant threat nagging at the back of readers’ minds because, as an ash person, death is one thing that cannot stop him. It is Sam, however, whose role the authors have cleverly devised. Though our trio find her, there is a surprise in store when it comes to Sam.
Not that I’d want anyone to go through what Alex went through throughout this novel, but his torment did make for some exciting horror reading. While Danza and Horeth’s version of a horrible and inescapable nightmare is still as freaky as I remember, there are times when the authors can make you laugh a bit. Grace, for one, thought Alex to be some kind of legendary figure before she met him, but only to conclude that the legendary figure she hoped to find was something else entirely. “My hopes of encountering an informative survivor had been shattered. This man was just a crazy imbecile.”
There is something that Alex learned in this novel. A truth that he could in no way prepare for. Meanwhile, Daniella’s hell becomes a bigger threat to the world because of Daniella’s maturating power. The cause of this rise in her power is Sam, whom she brings over to her side. While the real world inhabitants thus far has been brought to Daniella’s hell because they were comatose, Daniella becoming stronger might allow her to bring people into her world without them having to be in a coma.
There is a scene in the beginning of the book in which Alex hears the strumming of guitar strings. While the authors reveal that he knows that the tune he is hearing is called Waltz No. 2 by a Dmitri Shostakovich, the authors don’t show readers how Alex is able to know such a thing. Of course, as an inhabitant of this nightmare world, Alex has amnesia. But the authors should still have written something. Perhaps Alex himself didn’t know how he knew what song was being played. That, at least, the authors could’ve stated.
The story line can become confusing in the beginning for readers if they miss a detail or two. It’s only when Alex gets to tell Denise and Grace a little bit more about what happened to Daniella and how something horrible happened to her because four firemen – the very four firemen that are in Daniella’s hell too – decided to ignore a call that readers get a better understanding of what is happening and why.
This book provides more answers to this nightmare world than its predecessor and I was completely happy with what Matthew Danza and Adam Horeth has done with this follow-up to a novel that I enjoyed just as much. You won’t enjoy this novel if you’re not a little out there mentally speaking yourself. If you consider yourself a comfortably sane person, however, and you do feel like reading this book, than I’d simply tell you to prepare yourself.
Though people often tell him to get out more, he’d rather read his brains out. Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, his love for reading started at a young age. With horror books. But now, he reads everything under the sun. He provides affordable and extremely thorough book review services for authors of all genres at his website Frank Frisson.