Shadows Burned In is a fresh take on the old haunted house story we all know and run away screaming from in terror from, which has other agendas. In fact on closer inspection it really isn’t a ghost story at all. Sure there’s a creepy house with a creepy back story and other supernatural moments but this is something much more ambitious.
Set in the near future, where schools are now mostly closed and children learn from home in virtual classrooms and spent most of their spare time playing online immersive games, Elizabeth, a young girl relocated to her father’s home town becomes fascinated with a derelict house with a shady past. Her father David too has a connection to the house as we see from flashbacks to his youth, but is battling the demons of his own childhood while trying to come to terms with the slow disintegration of his relationship with his wife and daughter.
We also see a glimpse of prison life as an ageing prisoner Wayne Alan Kitts attempts to make a brutal and daring escape at any cost, with horrifying repercussions. The author makes no attempt to sugar coat this character or his experiences at the hands of both prisoners and guards. He is a violent machine bred by violence who has passed the point of no return and aims to use his escape to commit even more vile acts. There’s no redemption, Shawshank or otherwise to be had here, which makes him more frightening than any supernatural entity.
It’s a story of contrasts, of conflict, of opposites. It’s a serious study of the cycles and effects of abuse on different generations. Part speculative fiction, part coming-of-age drama that also looks at the brutality and inhumanity of prison life, all overshadowed by a looming structure that serves to embellish the story rather than dominate it, Shadows Burned In is a tense, absorbing debut with an important message for the modern reader.