Reviewed by Ashley Ehman
Written by Sean Michael Malone, Spring City Terror 1903 starts off as a seemingly innocent tale of a journalist visiting Waukesha, Wisconsin during the early 1900s. Underneath the Midwest niceties and hidden agendas, however, lies a darker secret beneath the surface of the town. By crafting a number of intriguing characters and a familiarity with the unknown through his creation of a small-town setting, Malone has created a body of work that bolsters his profile as a writer.
Without revealing too much, the story that Malone creates in the pages of his book is one of intrigue and suspense. The author takes great care in describing his characters, ensuring that each person is recognizable to the reader. As one person is described, “Moss was a man of mystery, with unkempt, shaggy hair and a thin beard” (8). It’s in this fashion that Malone introduces most of his characters. He starts with few descriptors, leaving just enough information for his readers to create a vision in their minds. As the story unravels more, the characters become more recognizable with tidbits of information skillfully littered throughout the novel. Moss, who was described as a man of mystery in the early pages of the story later becomes “a man, perhaps hard on his times, looking to turn a dollar” (85). The author’s thoughtfulness to slowly uncover the inner workings of each character helps lure the reader from one page to the next.
While the story itself was interesting, the author’s handle on his setting also made it easy to imagine the surroundings Roger Merrick encountered. Having my own familiarity with Waukesha, I had little trouble creating the 1900s version of this place I once called home. Improvements were not needed for the realistic aspects of the piece, as Malone worked hard to describe the various buildings and landmarks that were visited in town. For example, Malone painted the Fountain Spring House as having “carefully mowed lawns for picnics, numerous outer springs…and tennis courts in the distance” (25). Even when describing the more fantastical elements of the story, Malone was able to create relatable and imaginative settings. One case of this is when Merrick encounters the tunnel within the tree, with Malone’s words describing it as a patchwork of “luminescent and thin veins of roots from within the tunnel that weaved together…lining the walls” (132). Whether fake or based on real places, the author does well in building the backdrop for his story.
It’s clear that Malone has a solid understanding of his setting and character development in Spring City Terror 1903. As for the plot line, I wish the author had dug deeper and put as much detail into the story as he had the other elements of the novel. Upon conclusion of the book, I had many questions about Reginald Linden and Bradley Evers. Framed as the bad guy from the beginning, I wished there had been more backstory to Evers. This would have made him a more believable villain and help build the local lore around Evers Automation. As for Linden, his role in the story was rather unexpected. Even so, I wish there he been more tied into the story via his occult tendencies and strange research topics. They were touched on in the book but never fully divulged. It begs the question: was this lack of information intentional? Perhaps it serves a purpose to the author as it leaves the perfect space to expand upon the legend of the Spring City Terror. Will there be a sequel in the future? To be determined.
Overall, the writing style of Sean Michael Malone makes reading Spring City Terror 1903 a delight to anyone that enjoys historical fiction and fantasy. Malone does well to develop his characters and their relationships and takes care to build a believable setting for his story to unfold. While I’m left wanting more from the story, perhaps this can be seen as less of a flaw and more as an opportunity for Malone to create more stories in the Spring City universe in the future.
Ashley Ehman works as a freelance graphic designer and copywriter, focusing on logos, social media content, and blog writing. When she isn’t busy with her freelance work, she also manages a professional animal care business and serves a multitude of clients in the Greater Madison area. In her free time, Ashley enjoys expanding her knowledge of the circus arts through hula hooping, Lyra, fire play, and juggling, and playing with her hairless cat, Judge Nudie. Check out some of her latest projects @thedesigningavocado on Instagram or through http://www.AshleyEhman.com.