Paul reviews Master of Rods and Strings, a novella by debut author Jason Marc Harris.
|Series: N/A||Genre: Weird-Fiction, Horror|
|Date of Publishing: July 6th, 2021||Trigger Warnings: Murder, Mutilation, Animal/Pet Death, Self-Harm, Puppets|
|Page count: 92||Publisher: Vernacular Books|
Jealous of the attention lavished upon the puppetry talents of his dear sister—and tormented by visions of her torture at the hands of the mysterious Uncle Pavan who recruited her for his arcane school—Elias is determined to learn the true nature of occult puppetry, no matter the hideous costs, in order to exact vengeance.
“My chest swelled in pride for Sonja, but also poignant jealousy and longing at not yet being able to join her. I missed her terribly, and craved “truly unique greatness” too.
But why did Father’s hands shake, and mother knit more furiously, while Uncle spoke?”
While not my usual genre, weird-fiction and horror are something that I really want to experiment with and read more of. Master of Rods and Strings was something I stumbled across on Twitter, and I immediately knew from the synopsis that it was something I’d want to read—who wouldn’t be intrigued by occult puppetry?
Master of Rods and Strings follows Elias from boy to man; as a child, he wants to become a master puppeteer but is overlooked by his Uncle Pavan, who instead favours Elias’ sister Sonja. The plot charts Elias’ revenge on his Uncle not only for overlooking his skills but also as a consequence of witnessing the harm caused to Sonja through Pavan’s perverse and dark artistry.
As a character, Elias is forceful, unflinching, and utterly compelling. His ambition and belief of greatness are absolute, so as he ascends professionally, there is an almost parallel descent in his morality. His motivations are understandable, his skill absolute, but his methods are grotesque, which creates a character you root for but feel guilty for doing so. Elias’ marionette, Virgil, while an equally terrifying character in its own right, acts as almost a physical manifestation of Elias’ psyche. A lost, broken thing, rescued and restored, soon becomes a twisted chimaera adorned with hooves, fangs, and claws.
Master of Rods and Strings isn’t overt in your face horror, it is far more delicate and insidious. The constant small unnerving moments are compounded by claustrophobic tension, so what starts as a light caress soon develops into a strangling grip.
The writing is flawless and beautiful. Being more literary fiction, there is a certain purpleness to the prose, but it flows wonderfully. Harris manages to create not only a vivid breathing ‘here’ but weaves around it an ominous and malignant ‘other’ leading to each and every scene being loaded with both the seen and the unseen.
For a novella that runs at just ninety-two pages, there is an incomprehensible amount of depth and plot, perfumed throughout with the occult and drenched in such eldritch esoterica. Master of Rods and Strings is a novella that can be devoured in a single sitting, but whose taste will linger long into the night.