book review – Polyphemus by Zachary Ashford

Polyphemus is a love letter to heavy metal and horror. With addiction and obsession at the forefront, you can expect the swallowing darkness of this novel to fuel you toward its final dying page.


By Zachary Ashford

Published by DarkLit Press

Releasing July 15, 2023

Synopsis: Polyphemus is about a heavy metal band with aspirations to be huge, but they’ve recently fallen after their vocalist, Oaks, ruins a tour with his addictions, thus putting him in rehab and landing the band in trouble with their label. Now they’re reputation is shit, they have a recording contract to fulfill, and a vocalist to replace. But then Oaks returns from rehab, swearing he’s good to go and won’t mess up again. Though he has longtime friends in the band, like Nathan (who continuously champions in his favor with the others), Polyphemus isn’t so confident in Oaks’s ability to remain even a little clean. It becomes a constant discussion amongst the bandmates, trying to decide what to do, ultimately choosing a new vocalist over Oaks. This is where the horror kicks in–Oaks is going to lose Polyphemus so easily. A “life coach” named Anton takes Oaks under his wing and promises him the band will be his and famous should Oaks follow his direction. As they become familiar with one another, Oaks also becomes familiar with one of Anton’s proteges, India, who he falls in love with in no time. The problem is Anton’s coaching involves a paganistic ritual in which an entity attaches itself to you. Oaks doesn’t care, though; perhaps, on some level, he thinks the voice is all in his head. It takes time for the reality of the ritual and its consequences to sink in, that’s for sure. But Oaks does the ritual, takes on the entity, and allows it to direct him into horrendous acts to cement himself a place back in Polyphemus. This includes murdering whoever stands in his and the band’s way. 

The Review: Polyphemus is a love letter to heavy metal and horror. With addiction and obsession at the forefront, you can expect the swallowing darkness of this novel to fuel you toward its final dying page. There are references throughout the novel to real bands, which is always fun for the likes of me, seeing as I formerly worked in the music industry for a decade. And maybe this is why I was so easily sucked into Polyphemus from the beginning; the music is never in the background, that’s for sure. Zachary Ashford never loses his touch keeping the metal at the forefront, which I very much appreciated. As you can imagine, that and the entity empowering Oaks are the lifeblood to this novel. From horrific murders to a wild finale, Polyphemus keeps you hooked throughout, moving from one chapter to the next without any interest in a break. Though I generally hated the main cast, I think that was the point. With the exception of Spiros–who I could relate to in several key ways–I felt like everyone was a shitty person here. As such, I couldn’t say I really rooted for anyone other than Spiros. I wish I could have been given more reason to care for these people but I also understand what Ashford was going for with making them mostly trash. Despite being novel-length, this is a fast read due to its quick pace and building tension. It would be especially delicious to devour after attending a concert, just sayin’.

Bottom Line: Put your horns in the air and prepare to rock out to the novel equivalent of a heavy metal concert. There will be moshing and screaming and blood…of that, I’m sure. Zachary Ashford’s DarkLit debut is a hellish ride through the downfall of a band and its overpowering addictions.

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Wintry Monsters Press publishes the work of Aiden Merchant and Wesley Winters, as well as the occasional issue of WMP Dark Fiction Magazine, featuring reviews, interviews, promotions, previews, and more.


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