By Brennan LeFaro
2019 has seen so many high points of horror, and one of the most anticipated pieces is coming to a close. On November 12th, John F.D. Taff is poised to drop the fourth and final installment of his serialized novel The Fearing. It is set to weigh in at 527 total pages and took Taff a span of years to plan, work on, and bring to fruition. Initially, it seemed too lengthy for traditional publishers to touch, and with the input of big names like Josh Malerman and Ray Garton, Taff came to the realization that he couldn’t cut it down without losing parts that were crucial. The Fearing was going to need to be a doorstop in order to tell the whole tale. Thankfully, in stepped Grey Matter Press, who Taff had worked with previously. The two sides worked together to find a solution and agreed to publish the complete novel, serialized in four parts.
Part one, subtitled Fire & Rain, was released on July 9th to great acclaim within the horror community. It drew inevitable comparisons to other novels containing apocalyptic fare, such as McCammon’s Swan Song and King’s The Stand, but readers quickly noted that it stood apart from these giants. For one thing, there was no communicable disease or nuclear war on page one. Instead, The Fearing sets up an air of mystery. The characters introduced are spread throughout the United States, hinting at the epic nature an apocalyptic novel typically has, but we only meet a handful of characters and the scope somehow feels simultaneously sprawling, but small. By the time 100 pages have passed we’ve met our protagonist, we’ve met our villain, we’ve been thrust full-force into the action, we have little to no idea what is going on, and we want more.
Part two, Water & Wind, was released on August 20th to anxious readers everywhere looking to find out what happened next. Part two is mainly about making everything a little more clear. Our characters begin to theorize what’s happening to the world, and it clicks but it’s far from complete. We meet new characters, and it’s immediately apparent that big things are to come for them. We also start to realize just what our antagonist is capable of and, although it’s not unfurled, that he has a plan. Book two also serves to up the ante in every conceivable way, including an unforgettable ending. Some truly awful things happen, and Taff settles back to assure us that we might be halfway through, but it only gets worse.
Book three, Air & Dust, was released on October 1st It presents a little bit of a contrast to the first half of the story. The main people, originally spread across the country, begin to come together and so our action is a little more centralized. This entry could have easily been 100 pages of set-up for book four, but Taff includes some excellent moments of character development, as well as some of the best depictions and embodiments of fear come to life present in the entire series.
And so we arrive at book four, subtitled Earth & Ember. Picking up the final installment was a bit terrifying. Not only because of the content, but because the expectations for the story’s outcome were impossibly high. Taff had designed a unique and original event and then populated the world with living, breathing characters. The readers had invested months eagerly turning pages, itching to discover how it all turns out. Lucky for us, and for the first time in four books, our fears were unfounded. Our story is resolved in a satisfying manner, questions raised throughout four books are answered, the terrifying imagery we’ve come to expect and anticipate is ever-present, and the characters we’ve come to care about are handled in a way that lets us close the book and feel sated.
Someday I hope to hold a copy of The Fearing in my hands that collects all four entries in one volume. This work deserves that treatment. However, it is difficult to argue with the brilliance in releasing this in a serialized fashion. I am currently writing my fifth review of the series or its’ various portions. If the whole thing came out at once in July, I may have loved it, but I likely would not have been writing about it, talking it up, and communicating with other members of the horror community about it for almost five straight months. Releasing a piece at a time has kept Taff’s master class in horror relevant and in the public eye for an extended period of time. It’s also hard to discount just how well this book breaks itself into pieces. There’s never a dull moment.
With all the methods of distribution available to authors and indie presses, I truly believe Taff and Grey Matter have tapped into something special. I would not be surprised if we see more authors attempt releases in this fashion in the coming years. Will they all be successful? Maybe, maybe not. Would just any work lend itself to the process as well as The Fearing does? Not likely. Am I excited as hell to see all the different ways this trend could be handled and adapted? You bet.