First published in November of 2010, Ian Woodhead’s debut novel ‘Shades of Green’ began its life as a self-published venture pouncing on the sudden popularity of ebooks and his discovery of how easy it now is to get self-published work out to a worldwide audience.

In May of 2011 a totally reworked version of the story was published by the author.  The following review is however of the original version.

DLS Synopsis:
In the typical English town of Holburn, young Damien Tyler is playing out in the nearby woods with his brother Alan Tyler.  All of a sudden the two young boys are confronted by a strange supernatural monstrosity, constructed before their very eyes from a swarm of ants.  Luckily they both manage to escape this horrifying beast that lurks in the woods.

Six years later and the residents of Holburn are starting to experience some unnerving new phenomenon.  Spats of unprovoked violence has started breaking out, and all of a sudden the vegetation seems to be growing out of control – devouring wood, brick and glass in its wake.  More disturbing still are the transformations with the local residents that are taking place.  People are turning into flesh-hungry giant spiders, and grotesque demons are roaming the streets, sacrificing survivors as they go.

Damien together with his slowly transforming girlfriend Jen and his brother Alan must now locate the route of the evil that is plaguing their town.  Elsewhere, pet shop owner Pete and his friend Dave are fighting to survive the endless onslaught from bizarre blue tentacles, carnivorous vegetation, vicious orange worms and the brutal roaming demons.

An ultimate evil has come to Holburn and is ripping away all signs of humanity from the dying town.  If Damien and his fellow survivors can’t kill the one who is bringing this monstrous destruction upon the town fast, then the plague of transformations will quickly spread outside of the perimeters of the town, and as such, the rest of the world could well be at stake…

DLS Review:
Woodhead’s debut is certainly a surreal trip into the farthest reaches of the bizarre and altogether hallucinogenic corners of the imagination.  The plot is pretty much as off-the-wall as they come.  Woodhead has seemingly cast aside all literary restrictions and notions of “what makes a typical modern day horror” and instead relishes in the gloriously pulpy and weird nature of his (possibly disturbed) imagination.  The story makes Robert Chambers’ ‘Yellow Sign’ shorts seem down-to-earth and mundane.

That said, this debut self-published tale is certainly not without its faults.  The sheer volume of typos and mistakes within the text is utterly off-putting.  The tale desperately needed some serious proofreading before it was published.  Alas, bombarded as you are with these typos, the tale often becomes hard to decipher (particularly when character names seem to be swapped about) and it is near-impossible to become immersed within the storyline because of these equally frustrating mistakes.  Just when you feel that you’re becoming swallowed up by the weirdly hallucinogenic tale, you’re thrown out again by a clumsy typo that depressingly breaks the flow.

The storyline itself pulls in a whole host of ideas, which form a mishmash of over-the-top pulpy horror scenes which never really let up from the beginning to the very end.  However, this wild collection of ideas pushes the novel too far in such a short space of time, and ultimately makes the storyline feel overcrowded, confusing and increasingly erratic.

It’s incredibly easy to become completely lost within the story, with no idea what’s going on or who each character is.  Pete, Dave and Arthur all seem to blend into one another, with very little in the way of any time spent on developing any characterisation at all.  Having finished the story, I still have little idea of age, characteristics, features, or much at all about these principal characters lives.

Dialogue is another area where ‘Shades of Green’ unfortunately falls foul.  The dialogue has a constant flat tone, with no individual character’s mannerisms coming through at all.  Each word comes across as emotionless and simply there to carry out the plot’s requirements.

What quickly becomes obvious when reading ‘Shades of Green’ is the lack of any professional guidance on the final readability of the text.  Woodhead constantly takes it for granted that the reader knows exactly what he’s writing about and what’s going on.  Scenes become confusing and almost incomprehensible, with key elements left out or quickly washed-over.  Countless times I found myself re-reading passages to get my head around what was happening, which quickly became frustrating and even infuriating.

Although ‘Shades of Green’ can be somewhat of a struggle to read, it does have its rewards.  The elaborate plot and altogether wacky nature of the unending threat is entertaining if nothing else.  Like with much of Guy N Smith’s work, the reader can never predict what’s around the next corner.  With the direction of the storyline being so vague, interest and intrigue become very close companions to the reader – which is certainly not a bad thing.

The locally-confined apocalyptic nature of the tale draws similar comparisons once again to some of Guy N Smith’s earlier work, such as with ‘Thirst’ (1980) or indeed ‘Bats Out Of Hell’ (1978).  Although the town is brought to its knees quite quickly, the near-annihilation of its population seems a little too vague and understated to hold any impact or set the ‘near-post-apocalyptic’ scene that the author was attempting to achieve.

The ending itself is confusing, but nevertheless is given a satisfyingly grand atmosphere, although a multitude of loose ends seem to have been left unresolved.  This may well be a purposeful ploy, with thoughts for an eventual sequel, but does leave the reader feeling a little baffled and marginally disappointed.

Although this review seems very negative towards the novel, it must be said that for a rough first draft, the tale certainly shows absolute bucket loads of potential.   Yes it’s not ever going to be a literary masterpiece, but that’s not what Woodhead was clearly aiming for here.  Instead, with time spent on re-working, editing and proofreading (particularly eliminating the annoying plot hole), the tale cold become a truly mesmerising and mindboggling trip into the chaotic world of the author’s wild imagination.

Fleshed out considerably throughout and giving more life to the characters, the story has the promise to captivate and enthral the reader with the sheer ambitious and epic nature of the tale.  Woodhead certainly has a lot to offer the contemporary horror world, especially with his unique and unashamed over-indulgence with wild horror beasties and similarly monstrous threats.

Woodhead is certainly one to look out for.  If you see him in the street, it may be advisable to run.  If you see his work on the shelves, cast off all your inherent preconceptions of horror, and simply indulge yourself into the author’s utterly unpredictable and chaotic world.  I can guarantee that this author’s got plenty more surreal trips to come…

The novel runs for a total of 249 pages (on a Kindle with standard sized text).

© DLS Reviews

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