Transformations in Pain (Engen Books, 2008) is the second release in Matthew LeDrew’s Black Womb series.
Halfway through, a character named Cathy Kennessy insults comic books.
I give this story 0/5.
… Just kidding.
Transformations in Pain (Engen Books, 2008), the second release in Matthew LeDrew’s Black Womb series, is an odd duck. Whilst reading, I was exhilarated, angered and frustrated – often all for different reasons.
At its heart, this novel is a thriller with sci-fi and horror undertones. The driving force is how the characters, mostly teens and a few adults, of Coral Beach react when a series of violent sexual assaults shake their town. Keep in mind, dozens of people were eviscerated not too long ago so things haven’t been going very well.
LeDrew kicks things off by flexing his largest literary muscles. The Newfoundland author is superb at crafting action scenes and balancing pacing during tense moments. In the Prologue, a woman is desperately trying to outrun two shadowy stalkers. Teasing us along, her fate is soon revealed: “Eventually the screaming stopped, long before her terror was over”.
Alexander ‘Xander’ Drew, the main character (Anti-hero?) of the series, wakes up from a stupor covered in blood. Xander (whom I’ll refer to as such to avoid confusion with the author) is still deeply affected and scarred over the loss of his best friend and love of his life, Sara Johnson. Understandable seeing as he’s the one who killed her. Her death wasn’t entirely his fault, though: an evil corporation planted a bizarre organ inside Xander, spawning an organism with an intense bloodlust. On the plus side, it also granted him some pretty cool abilities, a Venom-like suit and the ability to speak in a different typeface.
Xander tries to return to normal life but he just can’t do it, a fact that worries his friends deeply: Mike Harris and girlfriend Cathy Kennessy. LeDrew throws us a curveball early in the count by having Xander share his pain by revealing his ‘situation’ to Harris and Kennessy.
When Transformations in Pain focuses on the mystery elements, it moves at breakneck speeds. The dialogue is sharp – another common trait in LeDrew’s novels – and the plot weaves together quite cleverly.
In spite of the good, there are definitely some problems that have made rating this book rather difficult. To get the nitpicks out of the way, Transformations in Pain – like the first in the series – has a handful of errors, particularly of the typographical variety. Most are cosmetic and from what I’ve read online seem to have been corrected in new editions. One stylistic choice I hope is standardized is the alternating references to characters by given and surname.
At times, it feels like the book dragged or meandered. I certainly appreciate authors building up their plot but some early scenes, especially the ones occurring inside the school approximately one-fifth into the story, could have been tightened.
What really stands out is the warm/hot reaction to sexual assaults (and crime in general) in Coral Beach. Some people are terrified and refuse to step outside, some brush it off and traipse through parks, alone, at night. Sexual assault is not something that should ever be taken lightly and Mike’s reaction is a realistic one: he wishes to go after those responsible for hurting fellow students. Of course, if he was only so brave to rally against the one responsible for shredding the flesh of a best friend, and dozens of others. Oh, wait: that was Xander. Mike’s decision to maintain a friendship with one villain to fight another seems rather odd. You know what they say, though: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The police – and most, if not all adults in general – seem powerless or comically inept. Even through suspension of disbelief, this can be infuriating and cause the reader – at minimum – to yell at the incompetence shown by the ‘grown ups’. I have reconciled this fact by treating the Black Womb series like a grisly, modern Scooby-Doo in that the kids are the only ones capable of solving mysteries.
Overall, I still enjoyed my second visit with the tortured souls of Coral Beach. As frustrating as things can get, a greater loss would be to not have read the book at all. 3/5