Cameron Pierce is a sick puppy. Having read some of Pierce’s previous work, I knew was to expect in terms of the violence, gore, and sexy stuff, an expectation that I did not have the advantage of when I read Ass Goblins of Auschwitz. In addition, his short story in Christmas on Crack should have cleared this up. Which made Gargoyle Girls of Spider Island a bit unexpected. Hold on. I’ll explain in a moment.
The story starts with four college students on break in the Caribbean in a boat being chased by pirates. After their boat is damaged and they managed to commandeer the pirates’ boat, the four students and one of the pirates wind up on a mysterious deserted island…or so they think. You know things are ominous when Oscar, the main character in the novel, tries to identify their position by the stars but can’t recognize any constellations.
The writing overall is very good. It’s very descriptive, both in scenes and action, and there’s a dark humor, too. I couldn’t help but laugh a bit when Oscar accidentally injures Allen. Or I’m just sick, and reading too much Bizarro fiction. Either way, it works in a sadistic way.
The first half of the book felt…normal. Way too normal. And tame, primarily focused on the pirate attack and then being stranded on the island and the relationships between the characters. This is what was so unexpected. Maybe this was Pierce’s goal, to lull the reader with a false sense of security and a change of style from his previous work. But the book is really divided into two parts, or could have even been written by two different authors. This first half is quite tame compared to most of the other stuff I’ve read by Cameron Pierce. It doesn’t feel like a Bizarro novel. The gargoyle girls of the title don’t even appear until around the halfway point.
Unfortunately, this is also where the book’s central problem comes in. The book changes gears way too fast. There’s little to no ramping up of the action or weirdness. Instead, Pierce smacks the reader in the face suddenly with what I have come to expect from him, reminding you that you are indeed reading a Cameron Pierce novel. It’s a bit like sailing relatively gentle seas with the occasional rolling wave, then getting hit by a tidal wave out of nowhere. This inconsistency becomes this book’s biggest failing, at least for this reviewer, as the dramatic change in tone pulled me off the page and reminded me that I was reading a book and not there with the characters. But I think what makes it so jarring is that what felt like the novel’s real story is way too short, and that there was potential for a lot more development of the gargoyle girls and the society on the island. They’re just sort of there. It felt less than undercooked, even half-finished.
It’s a decent book (in terms of quality, not morals), but unfortunately it doesn’t achieve greatness with this reviewer. The tone and style change too quickly, and it takes half the novel before the real action that you would expect from the title to even start. As such, Gargoyle Girls of Spider Island by Cameron Pierce earns three bottle of pirate rum out of five.