Quite a few years ago, My wife and I were in a major car accident. My car was totaled but miraculously everyone in the accident had no more than a few minor cuts and bruises. I remember having to squeeze myself out of the car wondering how so much twisted metal managed to miss hitting both of us. But since then I have been very alert to the fact that our lives can change instantly in a few seconds or be forever altered by a split second decision. It is something I knew intellectually before. But now it has a deeper more intuitive meaning and the knowledge has forever heighten my appreciation of what I have and for the fragility of life.
Dream of the Serpent by Alan Ryker is about that. Cody Miller is a successful young man who is in a horrible fire brought on by a second of forgetfulness as he texts his girl friend. For the next third of the novel and in first person narrative, we are witnesses to the devastating experiences of a burn victim. Each moment and action is described in torturous detail. It is not something that everyone will be able to read. Just as devastating are the descriptions of Cody's thoughts and emotions as he endlessly relive that one moment and thinks about what could have been "if". He is immersed in his own pain but also privy to the emotional pain of others around him. Cody's girlfriend lives with the thought that she may have been at least partly responsible and those feelings reignite her past drug addiction.
As you can see, this is pretty heavy stuff. If this was all, Dream of the Serpent would still be a very powerful book especially with Ryker's ability to bring alive the emotions and feelings of the characters. Yet this is a novel of the supernatural even though the story proceeds halfway through without any trace of the other-worldly. Cory is having dreams of what his life would be like if the accident did not happen. Soon he gets a phone call from his girl friend. "I think I found a way to fix everything."
At this point, things change. I won't say how but I sure it is the sort of the thing accident victims..no..all of us at some point in life have dreamed about. The author examines, in the unpredictable style of horror fantasy, the consequences of altering our life and the devastation our actions have on others. While the first half of the novel is steeped in the physical horrors of the natural world, the second half explores, in a just as horrific but more psychological way, the horror of our actions and the effect of them on the ones we love.
This is a superior horror novel; one that should be remembered for its power and relevance. I found myself looking back on my own experience while reading it and thinking about how different things could have been if I reacted a second later or that chunk of metal moved only one foot closer to me. I also wondered that if we could change something terrible in the past, would the sacrifice be worth it. There is always a sacrifice, in real life as well as fiction. It's that type of novel. The kind that makes you a little uncomfortable. The kind that makes you look at your own choices. And the kind that makes you glad you read it despite the horrific descriptions and uncomfortable feelings it evokes.
My highest recommendation.