Worship Me is the debut novel from Canadian author, Craig Stewart and it is one hell of a way to announce yourself. Originally published in July, 2017 with HellBound Books Publishing, Worship Me is a vivid, nightmarish jaunt into the deepest and darkest depths of humanity and the things we will do to save ourselves.
Something is listening to the prayers of St. Paul’s United Church, but it’s not the god they asked for; it’s something much, much older.
Worship Me is a harrowing book based around St Paul’s United Church and more importantly it’s congregation next to an old, dark woods called Burward Forest. In amongst the ancient trees something even older has stirred. Something the human eye can only really recognise as godly. A blessing perhaps? I mean, we are at a church. A church jam packed full of your typical, salt of the earth, church goers.
Have their prayers finally been answered? Has God finally appeared before them? Well, no, actually. Coming from the woods is The Behemoth, but not just yet. Fist we meet the painfully recognisable congregation. We have the young lady Clara. Clara helps out running the Sunday school and is generally a bubbly, helpful young woman who’s kind character is unappreciated. On the inside though she seems lonely and pensive and desperate for companionship or friendship.
Clara’s main loyalty lies in her friend Angela. Angela is returning to the church today after a period out of it. She has had a tough time. Her husband has gone missing, presumed dead and the church are all gathered, outwardly to pray for his return. Inwardly, they are mostly a bunch of nosy busy bodies who revel in the drama and pick at the gossip like vultures. We also find out that Angela’s husband, Rick, was probably not worthy of their prayers having regularly beaten Angela viciously before disappearing. While the church pray for his return, Angela prays he stays lost. Especially for the sake of her young son, Alex.
More despicable characters show their face in the guise of the reprehensible Emily, a judgemental cow who spends her time ensuring people know to look up to her while simultaneously knowing she looks down upon them. We have the empty vessel Tina who appears kind hearted but lacks any emotional depth under her plastic smile.
There are many more but they aren’t all bad. Two younger lads, Chris and Matthew, are homosexual, or at least exploring the option. Chris is a bit more forward with his feelings where Matthew definitely appears scared to face it. Even the priest, Don, doesn’t seem to bad as he preaches out to his flock. So many characters to buy into and you will because they are all given just the right amount of attention to be developed. Developed just enough to care one way or another when things take a turn for the worst.
As the church pray and service starts, a miracle happens. Dragging himself from the woods, bloodied, filthy and smothered in scars and just in time for the sermon, Rick bursts into the church. Praise the Lord, hallelujah, it is a miracle. God has delivered Rick back to Angela’s loving arms. Or so go the thoughts of much of the congregation. Not Angela though. For her, this is bad. Little does she know at that point that she isn’t the only one in trouble. See Rick has been changed. His time in the woods has been spent in the presence of The Behemoth and like a herald, he is here to deliver it’s message.
The Behemoth’s message is simple. It is annoyed at being forgotten. It is going to kill everybody in the church unless they worship it and prove their fealty. How they are going to prove themselves becomes the main instigating factor for the plot of the story and the horror that follows. The Behemoth wants one child, out of the Sunday school full of them to be given as a sacrifice within two days. These parents have the ultimate decision to make. Who’s child will they give to the true God and how will they make that decision?
It has quickly become apparent that Rick is not the Rick they remember and Angela knows she needs to escape. Even these early exchanges aren’t enough to prevent the blind faithful from fawning over Rick’s arrival and resenting Angela’s reaction to him. As the congregation dither, and wonder what is going on. Father Don decides enough is enough and stands up to him asking him to re-join their flock or leave. This exchange gives Rick via The Behemoth the perfect opportunity to show how seriously dire their situation is as, with barely any effort he obliterates the priest in viscous and brutal fashion leaving his corpse splayed out on the floor for the watching and wailing followers.
If people weren’t sure of the seriousness of the situation before, they finally are. They now know that this isn’t Rick and that the clock is ticking. The large bulk of Worship Me starts now as we get to truly see the best and worst of humanity. We see Clara’s desperate attempts to protect the children from the horrors within. We see people decide “to hell with this” and try to flee only to be horrifically destroyed as soon as they attempt to set foot outside of the churches confines. As time ticks by, we see the lengths some people will go to in order to save themselves and it is disturbing.
Religious fever is explored as some decide this must be the true god, not matter how maleficent. Led by a church elder, Dorothy, they decide they are being tested and must comply. They choose Alex, Rick and Angela’s son as the sacrifice – only fair right? As Angela tries to escape with Alex, the church goers have now mostly become a rabid, murderous clan and the deepest, darkest depths of humanity is on show. A few try to join Angela and “do the right thing” but mostly this leads to failure, death and bloody destruction. In truth Worship Me becomes a terrifying battle between good and evil, exploring how far good people can be pushed before they will turn to evil to survive.
Worship Me really deserves to be read so I don’t want to go into to much specific detail here for fear of spoilers. I will say that I found this book to be utterly enthralling and deeply interesting. It is an exciting glimpse into the psychology of the human mind and it’s survival instinct. The characters are deep and developed and easy to connect with. Especially for anyone who has ever been to church. You will find yourself loving, and hating, many of them which is testament to how will written they are.
The deaths are indiscriminate and brutal is not a strong enough word for them and how thoroughly they are described. Some of the vivid images created in these murderous sections stay in your mind long after putting the book down. Truly the stuff of nightmares. In summary, Worship Me is a fantastic story jam packed full of gore but it’s true strength comes in the page turning story that is paced to perfection with meaningful and recognisable characters. An absolute must read.
You can find out more about Worship Me and Craig Stewart at his website. Find out more about Craig on his Twitter and Facebook page and be sure to give him a like and follow while you are there. You can pick up a copy of Worship Me at the Amazon links below.
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Worship Me (Craig Stewart)
The Final Score - 9.5/10