A Descent into Fear and Chaos

The Fearing: Water and Wind by John F.D. Taff

Book Review by Rich Duncan

Last month, Shane Douglas Keene reviewed the first entry in John F.D Taff’s thrilling serial novel The Fearing. Fire and Rain introduces readers to the novel’s central cast of characters, spread out across the United States, as they confront a terrifying new reality where the world as they know it is crumbling. Shane gives an excellent breakdown of the first novel and I recommend reading his review if you haven’t already done so. I have been following the development of The Fearing for years and the core concept was one that instantly made it one of my most anticipated books. After finishing Fire and Rain, all of my anticipation was rewarded as Taff creates a terrifying world filled with vivid characters that I became invested in quite quickly. Even though it was only a little more than a month, I couldn’t wait to read the second installment. I couldn’t stop thinking about these characters and what might possibly be in store for them.

When I received the second book, Water and Wind, I wanted to dive back into John’s sweeping narrative immediately. Fire and Rain ends on a cliffhanger that keeps readers riveted and offers a glimpse of the chaos and hardship bearing down on not only the characters we’ve come to know and love, but the world as a whole. In our second conversation with Taff, he promised things would get a lot worse for everyone involved, and I’m able to tell you he delivers with Wind and Water.

The second installment picks up immediately after the first and revisits the main cast of characters as they begin to realize with growing dread the severity of the situation they find themselves in. Where Fire and Rain establishes the foundation of The Fearing, Water and Wind is the beginning of the exploration of the fallout that ensues. While we are intimately familiar with the characters – Adam, Jelnik, Kyle, Carli, Sarah, the Schlimperts, the Trammels, and Rich – by the time the first book wraps up, Wind and Water digs further into their psyches. Taff continues to develop this core group of survivors and ramp up their storylines, but also introduces some new characters. The first is Reverend Mark Hubert, a solitary man who has given his life completely to the church. I really enjoyed his introduction to the narrative and he’s shaping up to be one of my favorite characters. Without going into specifics, I thought his storyline was interesting because he’s challenged in ways that are a little different from the others. His core beliefs and values are tested early, and I think the implications of that will yield some very interesting developments as the story progresses. The other new character is Monday, a mysterious teen girl who crosses paths with Reverend Hubert. They develop an interesting dynamic – especially considering the circumstances of their first encounter – and I can’t wait to see how Taff develops that relationship.

Taff considers The Fearing to be his master’s thesis in Horror and it’s easy to see why. The book is meticulously crafted and contains all of the elements reader’s have come to know and love in his writing, but honed to an even sharper edge that cuts straight to the reader’s core and delivers a devastating emotional impact. Water and Wind offers a reading experience I haven’t had since my earliest days as a Horror fan. It goes without saying how much I love books and reading, after all, I’ve spent the entirety of my life devouring books as fast as I can get my hands on them and spending many years writing about them. I’ve read countless truly amazing works that have totally floored me. But The Fearing – especially Water and Wind – is the first book in a long time that rekindled that transformative flame that ignited my love for reading many years ago.

I also think that speaks to the work that went into making this a serial novel. Taff, the editing team at Grey Matter Press, and the beta readers crafted this perfectly. Each book is a self-contained story with no abrupt endings or loose threads but leaves plenty to the imagination that will leave readers clamoring for more. When I got the second installment, I was chomping at the bit to see what sort of madness would come for our group of survivors. I had every intention of taking my time, savoring the story so I didn’t have to wait as long for the third book. That plan went right out the window as soon as I read the first page.

One of the things that keep me coming back to Taff’s work time and time again – aside from his stellar characterization and his unmatched ability when it comes to plumbing the depths of human emotion – is his style. He’s one of those writers that are able to incorporate high concept literary elements into their work without sacrificing any of that familiar, comfortable storytelling ability that draws people to the genre, myself included. That’s readily apparent in his terrifying spin on apocalyptic fiction that is unlike anything I’ve ever read before in the Horror genre. Taff draws inspiration from some of psychiatrist Carl Jung’s concepts and conjures up a hellish nightmare scenario. That’s one of the things that makes Taff’s The Fearing stand out from the numerous apocalyptic novels and films that have come before it. A bulk of those stories feature static scenarios, whether it be a super virus, a meteor hurtling toward earth, alien invasion, zombie hordes, etc. It’s one inciting incident and then the exploration of the subsequent fallout. Not that there is anything wrong with those stories, I love them and consider this subgenre of Horror one of my favorites. One could argue that there is one inciting incident that jump-starts The Fearing and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. Taff’s interpretation of the End Times scenario is more fluid, an ever-evolving beast that keeps readers off-balance in each of the novel’s first two volumes. You think you start to get a grasp on where the story is heading in Fire and Rain – hell, Taff even gives us that information – but nothing prepares you for the gauntlet he has in store for both his readers and his characters.

Taff is no stranger to writing some truly frightening scenes in his work, but in my opinion, Water and Wind is home to the most bone-chilling moments Taff has ever written. Don’t worry, you won’t find any spoilers here, but I will say that Taff does explore his darker, more brutal side a little more often in this book. It won’t take long for you to see what I mean once you pick it up, as Wind and Water starts the same way Fire and Rain ended, with a bang. While the first book is no slouch in the pacing department, Taff takes things to the next level with Water and Wind. This second installment is a nonstop whirlwind that barrels along with ferocious intensity that will make it nearly impossible for readers to put down and leave them breathless when they reach its stunning conclusion. As the book releases and more people read it, I fully expect to see a deluge of reactions of shock, horror and everything in between. People call John F.D. Taff “The King of Pain” for a reason, so keep that in mind and buckle up when you finally dig into Water and Wind.

I’ve been raving about The Fearing for awhile now and have gone as far as saying it will be one of those special novels that resonate with Horror readers for decades to come. I know that may sound a bit like hyperbole, but I assure you, I mean every word. I truly feel in my bones that this is a truly special novel and one that I think will alter the genre and the approach to apocalyptic fiction. Taff is an immensely talented writer who has continually improved with every book over the course of his career and The Fearing is the culmination of all of those experiences, all of those tools he has developed. Taff has long been a favorite writer of the Horror community, but I feel that by the time he releases the denouement to The Fearing, he will reach a much, much wider audience.

Water and Wind releases August 20th through Grey Matter Press, but don’t wait, you can preorder it now. If you haven’t already, pick up the first book and we hope you will join us here at Ink Heist as we continue to dive deeper into The Fearing throughout it’s initial run!

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