First published back in March of 2012, British author G.R. Yeates' (aka Gregory James) novella 'Hell's Teeth' formed the third and final instalment into the author's debut 'Vetala Cycle' trilogy.
It's 1916 and the world is thoroughly in the grip of the First World World. At the peninsula of Gallipoli, the Turks are pushing forwards, forcing the Anzacs into a desperate retreat. The air is thick with smoke, the trenches a cesspit of decaying flesh. The dead are everywhere and the flies form pockets of thick black clouds across the sky.
Thomas Potter hides away in his Funk hole, taking each miserable day as it comes. After leaving his homeland of England in disgrace, he finds himself in the thick of the atrocities; acting as a runner in the Brigade Staff. He thinks back to when he was sent on a mission that one particular mission that would send his life spiralling downwards into a nightmare wrapped in the foul gloom of the Grey. A mission to rendezvous with the Colonel Bentley out in the sandy wilderness, where Potter found himself disorientated and lost, unsure of how to return back to the Mena camp.
Searching around the seemingly endless desert for a way back to the camp, Potter had been carried upon his trusty horse 'Old Duty' down into an underground cavern where death was lurking. From within the dark shadows that pool around the underground lair, in swirling grey tendrils that transfix the lost solider, the Vetala had been waiting. And Potter's arrival into their lair had doomed him for life. His escape from their grip is only fleeting.
Back in the Mena camp, when the retreat is finally called and the soldiers take to the sea off the coasts of Gallipoli, all hell comes thundering down onto the desperately fleeing men. The motorized lighter boat is ripped apart. Blown from the water, the soldiers are slaughtered and drowned. But Tom Potter somehow survives. Together with Lieutenant Bell, they float on their makeshift raft through the sea to face the black teeth of Cape Helles. Washed up on the shores of an unknown island, the two marooned soldiers cling to life with the tragedy of their own madness keeping them alive.
But they are not alone on the island. Tom's life was doomed from the moment he stepped foot into the Vetala's lair. From the moment he was chosen as a victim. From the moment he was cursed. Thomas Potter's own private hell is about to be realised, and it's a hell that will always remain with him through the rest of his life. Torment is real. The Gravelands are waiting for the cursed. And the Vetala are ready to feed...
Here we have the final part in Yeates' bleak and utterly depressive Vetala Cycle trilogy. The first thing that becomes instantly apparent to the reader is that Yeates has changed course quite drastically with the structuring of this final part. Unlike the first two instalments which flowed with a clear-guided direction and purpose, in 'Hell's Teeth' the reader is almost instantly submerged into a storyline that is seemingly stuck in an eternal loop; jumping back and forth between our protagonists woeful time at the frontline in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, memories leading up to the point when his life went to hell, and finally the doomed man's bleak and eternally-cursed future.
Yeates has clearly set out from the start to encapsulate the very essence of his Vetala mythos within this final instalment. What we are thusly given is a bleak and nightmarish vision of one man's life, which is forever locked in a spiral of maddening misery, all as a result of his escape from the grasp of the Vetala.
The overall concept and structure that is adopted is a daring and challenging format to take on board. The storyline constantly jumps between particularly significant stages of our protagonist's life, through a seemingly endless spiral of nightmares, vivid recollections and memory-sparking experiences. This in itself initially creates a fog of confusion for the reader, with the storyline never flowing in a singular line but instead jumping about everywhere. Indeed, the reader has to stay utterly engaged with the events of the novel throughout, or else they are likely to lose track of the time, place, or positioning of the nightmarish events taking place.
Furthermore, Yeates' influences and writing style seems to have changed somewhat since the first two instalments. Instead of the more direct and splatterpunk-cum-pulp-horror approach that was so utterly prevalent in the earlier two books, here Yeates has adopted a more atmospheric and disorientating style of writing - taking the reader back to the style of writing of H.P. Lovecraft or indeed Algernon Blackwood. Now, instead of a near-constant barrage of grotesque horror forming a visceral assault on the reader, we have a much more subdued (but in no way less terrifying) approach.
The tale feels more like a constantly circling nightmare than anything else. Yeates' atmospherically geared prose furthers the disorientating experience, making every action or event a disturbingly blurred vision of the chaotic and horrifying nightmare that it most certainly is.
With the storyline jumping to a seemingly modern-day setting, the reader is given a glimpse of our tired and frail protagonist, left alone to carry the burden of his nightmares whilst the Vetala remain in possession of his soul. Once again, even in this here-and-now setting, the writing maintains the foggish nightmare approach, painting a strange and downright creepy image of our protagonists final days, much of which is set within a sinister 'Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth' (1992) take upon a nightmare sequence.
Whether the novella is a stronger addition to the trilogy than the previous two instalments is open to debate. It's boldly different and quite obviously serves a different role. Indeed, the approach, construction and prose are quite far removed from the previous instalments. But where 'Eyes Of The Dead' (2011) and 'Shapes In The Mist' (2011) force-fed the reader a bitter meal of sadism, violence and vein-clogging horror, 'Hell's Teeth' instead submerges and envelops the reader in a spiralling blanket of horror.
Unfortunately, the writing does occasionally get swallowed up in its own ambiguity, with nightmarish scenes falling in upon themselves with slightly muddled and overcrowded descriptions. What we have is something akin to Lovecraftian depictions of a maddening out-of-control horror that has mutated and gone cancerous. And in doing so, Yeates messes with the reader's head and just keeps on pushing those downright unnerving buttons. Does Yeates' go too far with the novel's strange descriptiveness? I have to admit to becoming lost and slightly derailed at times. On a handful of occasions it just felt too clogged, too suggestive, and too opaque. The horror and atmosphere was there, but the flood of nightmarish descriptions ends up potentially drowning the reader rather than sending them to the nightmarish hell that the author was obviously aiming for.
But these slight criticisms pale in comparison to the astonishing piece of haunting horror fiction that's ripped from the festering belly of the First World War. It's a circling nightmare sent to torture this poor wretch. Yeates immerses the tale in the stink, the grime and the decay of a war torn battlefield. He casts hope to the side and promises nothing but misery and despair. And he delivers the monsters that are lurking behind the shadows in absolute abundance.
The novella runs for a total of 127 pages.
The book also contains the following bonus material:
The Last Post - 19 pages
It's Christmas Eve 1914 and midnight is approaching. As the soldiers hunker down for another bitter cold night in the trenches bordering No Man's Land, the few on sentry duty during the cold winter night know there is little hope of a seasonal respite from their duties. Lieutenant Reynolds offers what little good news he can to the three soldiers on watch - Charley, Bennett and Jimmy. But there is little to raise their hope during the bleak hours of darkness.
And then they hear the faint sound of singing across the way. German soldiers, joined in a chorus of 'Silent Night'. And then, from across No Man's Land they see the blurred shapes advancing through the wispy fog. Figures walking through the perilous ground between the two opposing sides. But there is more than festive cheer here in the ravaged Western Front. The Vetala are here. Torn from the ground they are ready to feed. And feed they will...
As one of two final short story additions to the trilogy, Yeates has drawn upon the legendary 'Christmas Truce' along the Western Front to set his final conclusion to the First World War set Vetala Cycle mythos. Already wrapped up in a wealth of nostalgic emotion, Yeates inches closer and closer to the great moment of the ceasefire, when suddenly he chooses to pounce. From out of nowhere we're back in the vicious throngs of Vetala chaos; thrust into the last post before those that have fallen pass over into the Greylands. And with a somewhat out-of-character twist, Yeates ends the mythos on a somewhat different note to what we have come to expect. And it ends darn well.
The Song of the Cycle - A Creation Myth - 3 pages on the Kindle at a standard font size.
Here we have the lyrics for a strange and somewhat eerie song to the Vetala Cycle that wraps the trilogy up in its chilling words, touching upon much of the nightmarish world that we have glimpsed through the three novellas.
Preview of 'From The Shadows, I Hear Screams' - 9 pages on the Kindle at a standard font size. Read more ›