Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Sandra Ruttan Reviews: Stargazers by L. P. Hernandez

It has been quite some time, but please welcome back Sandra Ruttan with another all-new review. 


Review of Stargazers by L. P. Hernandez 


Stargazers is a lean story centered around Henry, his wife, and his daughter. It takes place during an unexplained event. Perhaps you imagine the end of the world with fire raining from sky, bombs dropped by man, or missiles launched by aliens. Stargazers is far more sinister because it's mysterious and unexplained, but whatever it is overrides people's minds and assumes control. They aren't themselves, and their behavior leads to their deaths, the destruction of towns, and the deaths of others.


Henry has PTSD and already struggles to hold it together during the best of times, so when things go bad, there's real tension. It's instinctive to wonder how he'll cope. This adds to the intrigue and maintains reader engagement as events unfolded.


Sections are split with some posts online. These outside perspectives give readers different information about what's happening and widen the scope of knowledge effectively. When you anticipate trouble on the horizon, you worry more about your protagonist and want to see what happens when they come to certain realizations or deal with new realities. In the mystery genre, there are whodunnits and there are howdunnits and there are whydunnits. Sometimes, however, the most compelling mysteries don't center on unknowns, but rather certainties. Knowing a character will have to deal with something specific and wondering how they'll get out of the situation or respond can be just as satisfying as figuring out who's responsible.  

This story creates and maintains plenty of tension and adds plenty of developments throughout to keep it from being predictable. In fact, the author avoids some common tropes and leaves us with loose ends, and I personally applaud the choice to avoid tying things up neatly. 

My only real quibble centers on a writing choice related to point of view. At times, we follow Dad or Mom, and other times we follow the daughter. I don't think the sections from the daughter were necessary and since most involved jumping to and from her POV in the middle of a scene, it was distracting. The other thing is, knowing her thoughts mitigates tension in those scenes because we know her situation, and she presents as very mature for her age. Staying out of her thoughts keeps the focus on Dad's concerns and his uncertainty because he doesn't know what she's thinking. The same way the mystery about what's prompting the stargazers to act the way they do adds tension and intrigue, not knowing what the child's thinking adds to Henry's worries and stress level. He's dealing with the stargazers, armed people in the streets, and his own demons. Worrying about his daughter adds another layer to his concerns, but we don't really live in those moments because the POV jumps to her and reassures us because she isn't in full-blown panic mode.


Compare to a scene between the parents when Mom comes home, clearly distraught. We don't even know exactly what she saw, and that lack of detail is more effective because we see the scene through Dad's eyes and feel how worried he is. It's perhaps the most gutting scene in the book because Henry's wife has kept it together for so long and now she's come undone, leaving Henry anchorless. 


Overall this is a solid novella that blends the best elements of horror and suspense to deliver a memorable apocalyptic story that's both chilling and hopeful. I look forward to seeing what Hernandez has in store for us in the future.


Trigger Warnings 

Sexual assault








Sandra Ruttan ©2022

Sandra Ruttan is the founder and EIC of Dark Dispatch. In March 2022, Dark Dispatch released The Dead Inside, an identity horror anthology co-edited by Laurel Hightower and Sandra Ruttan. Ruttan's novels are available online, and if you're looking for a place to start she suggests Harvest of Ruins.

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