Tracing the Beast in the Sanctuary: A Review of Craig Stewart’s “Follow Him”

I first became interested in the horror genre at an early age. I was the eight year old who didn't like to read, but I knew the feeling of watching that demon possessed child sit up in her bed with a wide, twisted grin on her face as her head rotated completely around on her neck. I suppose one could say that The Exorcist was my first real dive into horror. Everything I had watched up until that point left no real fear. They were the ridiculous horror films from the 80's, the ones that focused on blood and gore for shock value. But The Exorcist was a different animal. It took me years to get that horrifying face out of my mind, the face of that girl with gnarly teeth, slashes across her face, and a wide grin that sought to strike panic in the heart of any believer, that face that said "I am erasing every ounce of hope from the world," without having to utter a single word. After several years, I gave The Exorcist another go. Sure, there were portions that I wanted to fast-forward through because I didn't know if my heart could bear them. I watched those portions anyway. Since that first experience of watching The Exorcist, nothing has been able to strike that fear the way the initial watching did. The only thing close is the work of Ari Aster, namely the films Hereditary and Midsommar. But shortly after my second viewing of The Exorcist, I turned to reading horror genre as well as watching, convinced that nothing could top the work within cinema (this would change later, of course). I would discover that The Exorcist also existed in novel form from William Peter Blatty much later.

Stephen King was definitely an author I took notice of, as well as early horror writers, such as Poe and Lovecraft (who have had a profound influence on my own writing). However, these are names that are well known in the landscape of Horror Genre. When we go to the local bookstore to select a book in the horror section, these names come to mind. They are household names now, names that are cemented in history as prime reads of the horror genre.

I began reading lesser known authors in an attempt to find out what I was missing. Trust me when I say that, out of the names one can throw out off the top of one's head when recalling the horror genre, there is a plethora of names that are rarely mentioned, particularly in pop culture. These are all authors who have the chops and are definitely worthy of one's time.

Recently, I read a book by Craig Stewart titled Follow Him, published by HellBound Books Publishing. Out of all of the things that I find horrifying, I find the capacity of humanity perhaps the most horrifying. What other species has the drive to lead others to their doom, like a Jim Jones character? I've always found small, isolated cults to be terrifying: Closed off from the world around them with only a single goal in mind, impressionable led by insanity, etc. In order to avoid spilling the plot of the novel, I will be speaking rather vaguely. However, Stewart's Follow Him follows several characters, among them Jacob and Nina. Jacob, the former fiance of Nina, has been in a cult for some time when the story picks up, a cult called The Shared Heart. The ultimate goal of the cult is spelled out rather vaguely throughout but isn't explicitly stated until further on in the novel. While the novel moves steadily towards that revelation as well as following a sort of twisted love story, Stewart also allows the reader to get a glimpse inside the minds of these characters and they are fleshed out relatively well, in a manner that keeps the reader's attention. Another aspect that I found great about Stewart's writing is his ability to give the reader just enough and only enough. The characters are detailed and their intentions and actions are as well, but only detailed to the point that the reader has the tools necessary for a specific place in the story, with several other pieces of the puzzle to come. This is a necessity for the horror genre, as any fan of the genre will know. Too much too soon will lose the reader's attention, and Stewart does an excellent job of holding back, allowing the reader to have the appropriate amount of information about the characters, their actions, their backstory, etc.

This novel is definitely not for younger readers, as it has very mature themes and situations. There are several explicit scenes, described in sometimes obscene (or, what I perceived to be obscene as everyone has different takes on that) detail. I will also say that this sort of novel within the horror genre is not one that I am accustomed to reading. However, I'm glad that I gave Craig Stewart's work a read. Throughout Follow Him, Stewart dives into the psychology surrounding cult attraction as well as brokenness and bitterness. All of it leads to a gory and, in my opinion, satisfying revelation (let's face it, if you didn't want to be frightened, would you really read works of horror?).

Is Craig Stewart's novel the best work of horror fiction? No. However, it leaves no threads untied. By the story's close, I was satisfied with how the story played out as well as the many characters I was able to meet. It is not the best work of horror fiction available, it does not pretend to be, and it does not have to be. The story is laid out well, each portion tying into another portion. Many portions of the novel conjure mental images that are best left locked in an old chest at the back of one's mind... if only that chest could contain the beast that waits to be birthed.

Craig Stewart's Follow Him can be found on Amazon. If you are looking for a novel that gives you a frightening experience as well as the unexpected, Stewart's novel is a must. The last few pages of the work are a Lovecraftian shock and left at a place where the reader is kept wondering, a staple of any great work of horror. If you are a fan of the horror genre of literature, I encourage you to give Craig Stewart's Follow Him a read.

While I am accustomed to reading works by King, Poe, Lovecraft, Octavia Butler, etc, after reading Stewart's novel, I have decided to look into lesser known names of the horror genre. Perhaps Follow Him was, for me, a jumping off point into another layer of the horror genre that largely gets skimmed over by pop culture. 

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