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
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.
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.