Chillingly Awesome: The Gathering by C.J. Tudor

Posted 26th April 2024 by Sia in Horror Reviews, Reviews, Spec-Fic Reviews / 0 Comments

The Gathering by C.J. Tudor
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Horror, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Plus-sized/fat sapphic MC
Protagonist Age: 50+
PoV: Third-person, past-tense; multiple PoVs
ISBN: 0593356608

A detective investigating a grisly crime in rural Alaska finds herself caught up in the dark secrets and superstitions of a small town in this riveting novel from the acclaimed author of The Chalk Man.

In a small Alaska town, a boy is found with his throat ripped out and all the blood drained from his body. The inhabitants of Deadhart haven’t seen a killing like this in twenty-five years. But they know who’s responsible: a member of the Colony, an ostracized community of vampyrs living in an old mine settlement deep in the woods.

Detective Barbara Atkins, a specialist in vampyr killings, is called in to officially determine if this is a Colony killing—and authorize a cull. Old suspicions die hard in a town like Deadhart, but Barbara isn’t so sure. Determined to find the truth, she enlists the help of a former Deadhart sheriff, Jenson Tucker, whose investigation into the previous murder almost cost him his life. Since then, Tucker has become a recluse. But he knows the Colony better than almost anyone.

As the pair delve into the town’s history, they uncover secrets darker than they could have imagined. And then another body is found. While the snow thickens and the nights grow longer, a killer stalks Deadhart, and two disparate communities circle each other for blood. Time is running out for Atkins and Tucker to find the truth: Are they hunting a bloodthirsty monster . . . or a twisted psychopath? And which is more dangerous?


~50yo lesbian detective is Done With Your Shit
~NOT the cosy kind of small-town story
~can you hear the whispers?
~watch out for gold teeth

I still don’t know what made me pick this up, because at a glance, this looks like something that should bore me to tears: a murder mystery (I couldn’t care less about murder mysteries) in a tiny town (I hate tiny towns) in ALASKA (I hate freezing cold settings) with vampires – I don’t hate vampires, but it’s been a while since I saw an interesting take on them, and nothing about that cover or blurb made me think The Gathering would surprise me.


The Gathering has the addictive quality of a Dan Brown novel, except that it’s actually, you know, excellent. Tudor somehow manages to create a popcorn-like moreishness despite all the objectively terrible things happening – as stated above, pretty much everything about this book shouldn’t have worked for me, most especially the really awful hatred these small-town Alaskans have for their vampyre neighbours. What can I say, I don’t like reading about bigotry! Even fantasy bigotry! And there’s quite a lot of it here; we have one character who refuses to get the police involved when shenanigans occur because the cops would take away the stuffed and mounted vampyre heads he has on his wall if they discovered them. The local bar has vampyre femurs worked into the beer taps. There’s a great big cross outside the church made up of used vampyre-hunting stakes. It is honestly nausea-inducing, and I found it even harder to understand than the usual monster-speciesism, because – well, a shifted werewolf doesn’t look like a human. Orcs are green with tusks. They’re visibly not-human, you know? But these vampyres are fully capable of passing for human, and there’s a big part of me screaming about how you can justify putting what is indistinguishable from a human head on your wall?!

Which I realise is naive of me; humans are terrible to other humans all the time, so looking like a human isn’t enough to save you from that kind of hate. But still: extra nauseating.

I think Tudor actually does a fair job at helping us understand the fear that’s at the core of the vampyre-hate, without ever excusing it or trying to depict it as rational. The story is kickstarted by a human teen being murdered by a vampyre, after all; clearly vampyres are fully capable of being very dangerous. But so is literally everyone in a country where gun ownership is as easy and legal and common as it is in the US??? It’s still not rational, and what’s worse is that vampyres have a very strange legal standing; they don’t have the rights of humans, and seem to have the legal status of rare, dangerous wildlife. So the murder at the start of the book has the locals clamouring for a Cull, which is legal mass-murder, basically, in which a whole vampyre community is ‘put down’. HI, THIS IS NOT A THING WHICH SHOULD BE LEGAL, WTF, I HATE IT HERE.

Let kids be kids and they’ll burn the whole damn world down.

Except I don’t, which is largely down to a) Barbara, our MC, the vampyre specialist brought in to investigate the murder, and b) the lore and worldbuilding Tudor created for this new setting. (I am PASSIONATELY hoping for sequels!)

Barbara is The Best: she’s an overweight, middle-aged lesbian, and much better than I would be at not telling the locals to shove their bigotry up their collective ass. Keenly aware of how isolated she is – far from her own coworkers and anyone she can actually trust, her presence resented by literally everyone, in a town without real medical care should an emergency occur – Barbara does a good job of being polite while making it clear that she’s not signing off on a Cull until she has diamond-solid proof that one is necessary. The locals can’t believe she has the temerity to actually investigate, but she does, and what looked like a simple case rapidly comes apart the moment someone unbiased starts poking at it. (Obviously. What kind of murder mystery would this be if it didn’t?)

But fundamentally, she is Tired, deeply unimpressed with her assignment, and able to hold her ground when she’s challenged. She’s willing to be polite; she’s not willing to back down, or handwave anything, or accept the easy answers. I loved how grouchy she was internally, and admired the balancing act she managed between getting her job done without outright insulting the locals. (I still don’t know where she got the patience.) That being said, she doesn’t let the potential danger to herself stop her from digging into ugly secrets and pasts that the town REALLY want to stay buried. I’m not sure I’d call her a fun character, exactly, but she is incredibly relatable and wonderfully competent and no-nonsense, and characters like that always make me happy.

Onto the worldbuilding: even before the story starts, Tudor genuinely wowed me here. The book opens with three quotes from fictional, in-universe texts, and I was just so impressed with how quickly and easily those quotes gave me all the historical and current context I needed to understand the world Tudor had created. It avoided any need for exposition or info-dumping! It’s such a simple thing, but it meant that I could hit the ground running and dive right into the story – and who doesn’t want that?

The vampyres in this world tend to live in groups called colonies, can reproduce sexually as well as Turn humans, have their own written and oral language, and they’re not actually immortal – they just live for a really long time. I really liked Tudor’s take, especially with how sly and sneaky it is; while at first vampyres are presented as completely non-supernatural, over the course of the book, Tudor makes you wonder how many of the legends Barbara dismisses as superstition might actually be based on something real – or be outright true. One of the biggest reasons I want a sequel is that I’m dying (if you’ll excuse the pun) to know more about vampyre culture and abilities. But it’s the tiny details that make the vampyres come to life (ahem), like the way that newly Turned vampyres and born-vampyres who’ve come of age receive special rings, with their names engraved in the vampyre language. Things like that just…imply so much history and culture, without anyone needing to write us an essay on it. I approve!

Even if it does make it a little tricky to know what genre this is. I’ve tagged it horror, but more because of how much of what was in it horrified me than because it really fits on that shelf, as it were. The Gathering isn’t really contemporary fantasy, either, even if the vampyres are potentially supernatural in nature. It’s definitely a police procedural/murder mystery, but those don’t usually have vampyres!

This genre-blurriness amuses me, for the record. I’m very okay with storytellers mixing genres together, but I figured it was worth mentioning in case it might bother anyone else. The Gathering pretty much refuses to be neatly pigeon-holed.

Which is only emphasised by the multiple perspectives we get on the story. Barbara’s our main character, but we do get the PoVs of several locals, which helps colour in the sketchiness going on, as well as conveying something of what it’s like to live in such a small, rural area…and the complicated relationship between the town and the local vampyre colony. Which, whatever you’re guessing it might be – it’s worse than that. SO MUCH WORSE.

I didn’t see the reveal coming, but I never do, so I can’t say whether more eagle-eyed readers will put the puzzle together before it all comes to light. I can’t judge it as a mystery, because I’m terrible at mysteries. But as a story, it’s damn awesome – it managed to hold my attention when I didn’t feel like I could focus on anything at all, completely sucking me in – I think I read the whole book in under 24 hours. It’s easy to read, you know? That X Factor quality that means your mind can just relax into the story, despite how horrible a lot of it is; so compelling that you keep turning pages far past bedtime.

I loved it, and like I said, I’m hoping for sequels – let this be just the beginning of Barbara’s adventures with vampyres, please and thank you!

Trigger warnings: including but not limited to, hate-speech, references to the rape and torture of vampyres who look like young children, and human scum who think it’s fine to mount the heads of actual vampyre kids on their walls.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.