Trouble in Paradise: Kristin Dearborn’s Sacrifice Island

sacrifice_islandThe blurb for Kristin Dearborn’s novella Sacrifice Island (DarkFuse, 2013) grabbed my attention, leading me to add the book to my reviewing queue:

Jemma and Alex are paranormal investigators, writing a book on hauntings around the world. When Jemma begins researching a cryptic diary written by a young woman who committed suicide on a supposedly haunted island in the Philippines years earlier, they think they’ve found their next chapter.

It doesn’t take long for the pair to learn that the island harbors long-buried secrets, while savagely mutilated bodies turn its cerulean seas bloodred around them.

An ancient legend…

For the spirits here are demanding, and Jemma must confront her own demons while attempting to save herself and Alex from taking a permanent vacation to Sacrifice Island.

Intriguing, no?  It’s not revealing too much to say that the creature of Sacrifice Island is an aswang, a mythical vampire-like creature from Filipino folklore. I have a couple movies in my collection that feature as aswang, but have never gotten around to watching them, so I was looking forward to my, er, aswang introduction on Sacrifice Island.

As mentioned in the blurb above, Jemma and Alex travel to the Philippines to investigate the legends involving Sakripisiyuhin Island, or Sacrifice Island, as it’s called. It quickly becomes apparent that Jemma has some unusual quirks — fervently avoiding the touch of others, burying herself in layers of clothing — and that the two of them have a relationship with some undisclosed backstory… in particular, Alex seems to have feelings for Jemma that go well beyond their business relationship.  Jemma also has an unusual psychic skill, but I’m going to refrain from going into detail on that in order to avoid a spoiler.

Arriving in the town of El Nido, they’re greeted by Terry Brenton, a UK expat and widower who owns a local hotel and figures prominently in the plot. Nearby Sacrifice Island was once a tourist attraction, but after a string of suicides, it’s become abandoned, and shunned by the locals…although it’s not completely deserted, acting as home to something that demands sacrifices, as the island’s name implies.  Once Jemma and Alex visit the island, events begin inexorably leading toward a confrontation with the aswang.

There is some awkward dialog at times, and a few minor continuity problems, as seen here:

She started to walk back, but then realized it was too hot. She had to flag a trike down after all.

None of them stopped and she started to cry. Finally one did stop. It took three tries to spit out the name of the place.

“You okay, lady?” the driver asked, his English broken.

“Fine, thank you.” She turned away. She knew she’d overpaid, but she didn’t care.

Relief washed over her as she retreated to her cabin, shut the door behind her, locked it. She drew all the curtains, and only then did she step out of her layers of clothes.

But those weak spots are somewhat balanced out by strong pacing and some nice descriptive passages, as seen here:

The afternoon sun baked through Terry’s light cotton shirt and linen trousers. Sweat pooled at the small of his back and inside his trousers … He’d had to wait a day, to make sure Mr. Lucky fed her, to make sure she wasn’t hungry when he came. He arrived at noon, when the sun shone strongest and the creatures of the night were at their weakest.

Sacrifice Island is also aided by the “fresh” nature of some key aspects: the off-the-beaten-path locale, the unusual creature, and the offbeat nature of Jemma’s psychic ability.

The aforementioned relationship between Jemma and Alex is the most intriguing aspect of the novella but it’s frustrating as well — the reader tends to tire quickly of his simpering behavior and her rather icy and controlling actions.  All in all, Sacrifice Island is an entertaining way to spend a couple hours, even if it’s a bit rough around the edges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *