I seem to be in the vast minority when it comes to reviews for this novella from second-time author, Mr Daniel Marc Chant (I included the "Mr" because that's how the author's name is listed on my kindle copy of the book). Other reviews have praised Burning House for its fresh and interesting concept - that of a group of firefighters battling some kind of evil in the midst of a large apartment building blaze - and its impressive gore. While I agree with the concept here being different enough to be interesting on its own, the gore, for mine, was nothing exceptional.
I don't know. Perhaps I just read this with my grumpy pants on. But what I find odd is that others seem to have overlooked major issues with this novella that stood out to me like a LARPer in the middle of the CBD at lunch time on a Wednesday.
To start, Chant sets up the town this all takes place in as being off or wrong in some kind of way, and then never again revisits this idea. Then, he has some kind of sacrifice take place within the bowels of an apartment building which presumably summons the evil that feeds the flames which devour said building, but again, aside from setting things in motion, this goes absolutely nowhere. Once the residents of the building get out, the story switches to the POV of the firefighters, and they have no clue what's going on (at any point), so the reader never gets any kind of explanation as to what is happening and how it relates to the prologue. Which I found to be wholly unsatisfying. Why not just start the tale with the firefighters arriving on the scene, noting something weird about the flames, then hearing screams and going in to find the person still trapped in the building?
Which leads me to issue number two. All fictional books require a certain suspension of disbelief - and works of horror require it more than most - but the level required to get through Burning House is immense. The time the firefighters spend looking for one screaming person, even after their own start to disappear and then die, becomes increasingly silly. Their rationale for staying is not sustainable beyond the first death they suffer. Worse, they continually split up, wander off, and otherwise make bonehead decisions mere scenes after talking about not doing exactly what it is they have gone ahead and done!
The writing here screams early trunk novel. Far too many characters not nearly fleshed out enough to care about (aside from Ellie, the female lead), with some not even given a trait until after they have died (eg. Ellie's cousin). Building from this, too many characters are simply too interchangeable, and this is only made worse by Chant's decision to switch back and forth between calling them by their first and surnames throughout the book. I mean, I still can't tell you how many people were in the firefighting squad that went into that building*. Chant also has so much going on in certain scenes that he has characters simply stand there far too often looking on in horror. This is sometimes explained by the encompassing darkness that travels with the evil thing, but that darkness still doesn't explain why people aren't booking it out of there quick smart once light has returned and the result of said attacks is revealed.
So, in summary, Burning House reads and feels like a very early novella. At its core, it has a genuinely good idea, but the execution of said idea lacks in numerous critical ways - at least, it did for me.
2 Hopelessly Inept Captains Who Know Nothing About Saving Their Teams for Burning House.
*Though in the counting system of Terry Pratchett's trolls, I know it was lots