“Belle Vue” by C.S.Alleyne: ARC Review

“Claire gripped the steering wheel, pressed the accelerator, and crossed the junction as the light turned red. She drove back to her apartment by rote, her mind a whirl. The exam this morning had been a disaster: so much for Public Relations being her best subject. On her answers today, she couldn’t manage a good turnout for the Pope at a Catholic convention. What was wrong with her? Okay, she hadn’t done as much revision as she’d have liked. She found it so hard to concentrate these days and couldn’t remember a thing. Her stomach had rumbled its way through the seemingly endless three hours, despite the cereal, toast, chocolate bar, and banana she’d eaten at breakfast. To top it off, Alex was miffed because she’d tol him she was going to stay in and crash this weekend: catch up on her sleep and hopefully get some work done on her own dissertation. Talk about selfish. It was as if he didn’t want her to do well. His first class honors was in the bag, the way she was going she wouldn’t even pass this year.”

Synopsis: When Claire Palmer buys an apartment at Belle Vue Manor, formerly a Victorian insane asylum, her and her friends are pulled into a centuries-old grudge and a plot for revenge from beyond the grave. As events unfold, and the past is gradually revealed, will any of them make it out alive?

Who May Enjoy This Book:

  • Fans of the Gothic Horror genre
  • People who like ghost stories
  • People who like dark and grotesque subject matter
  • People who like stories about cults

Disclaimer

I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

***Trigger Warnings***

This book contains instances of:

  • Mental Illness
  • Rape
  • Abuse
  • Cannibalism
  • Grotesque Murder

Welcome, readers! I wanted to begin by stating that this was a difficult book for me to review. There is much which is worthwhile to discuss, but it becomes difficult to do so at times without outright spoiling elements of the text. I will endeavor to do so as best I can while minimizing spoilers, but please cut me some slack on this one! That being said… this is the first horror novel review on the site. Hooray! C.S. Alleyne’s debut is a sordid, slow-burning tale of immortal vengeance and corruption. This is not a happy story. This story is unlikely to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside (and if it does, I sincerely hope to never meet you in person). This is a gruesome Thriller far more than a “Horror” novel in my opinion; I was never subjected to any sort of fear or terror in the course of reading it, but it certainly left me feeling profoundly disturbed by the climax and the supernatural elements are numerous enough to pull it into “Horror” territory.

Let’s not dally further: Belle Vue opens in a flashback sequence (the story cycles between present day and the late 1800’s) wherein a (presumably) mentally ill woman is bound and brutally raped by an orderly at the mental asylum which would later become Belle Vue Manor. While it certainly creates a strong air of distress to set the mood, it’s a hell of a way to start a book. The thoughts of the assailant are described in detail leading up to the assault, presented in their full repulsiveness, and there are numerous other instances of this sort of scene peppered throughout the text. Immediately following this, we are introduced to the (apparent) present-time protagonist, Claire. We also meet Alex (her boyfriend, also a protagonist) and her friend Marianne. The plot revolves around Claire’s decision to move into Belle Vue (using her inheritance), and the strange events which come to pass within it’s walls. Claire is a very sweet, passive, and caring person: the archetypal Gothic Heroine of the tale; she is also mentioned to have mental health issues. Alex is focused-on very little at first, and is more often than not either drunk, trying to have sex with Claire, or both. His historical investigation into Belle Vue takes a backseat to Claire’s problems for a good portion of the text… which is why it is moderately confusing when the apparent protagonist gets fridged. Frankly, it’s somewhat appalling; Claire is put through hell for no apparent reason, then unceremoniously replaced by the boyfriend in the narrative. I understand that a certain connection to the past sequences was necessary, but I just find that fridging a female protagonist is in poor taste, and it could have been done in other ways.

The pacing and suspense were also an issue for me as I read Belle Vue… I just didn’t feel the tension I should have given the circumstances. The reader understands on an intellectual level some of the spooky happenings in Claire’s apartment. Creepy old ladies staring you down/possibly cursing you, ghost attacks, horrible personality changes in the characters… all classic hallmarks of vintage horror, stuff that I enjoy seeing, but there is just no buildup. I thought about it or a while, because I was confused at my lack of reaction. Normally I’d be all over this! I realized that part of the issue was the frequent changes in timeline/perspective. By changing the POV so frequently, it made it difficult to build up that Horror Novel Anxiety. Additionally, while I thoroughly enjoyed the flashback chapters (the cast of characters there is wonderfully depraved; it was my favorite aspect of the novel), they resulted in too much exposition. Allow me to explain: by spending more time in the point of view of the protagonist and allowing them to gradually uncover pieces of a mystery, it draws the reader in and forces them to experience the Horror from the perspective of a character. While they were wonderfully written and entertaining, the flashbacks became by far the main source of revelation in the text. This distinct separation has the unfortunate effect of reducing the overall tension. This in no way means that the ENJOYMENT is reduced (it’s still an interesting story!), but it just feels a bit less like Horror.

The strongest aspect of Belle Vue is its villain… whom I will not reveal here (you’ll need to read the book!). Their depiction is clever, nuanced, and you will both admire and despise them. It is easy to see how one could be driven to such depths of cruelty by the things they’ve seen, and how very thin the line is between vengeance and villainy. At its core, this is a great revenge tale… one where the ends will justify any means imaginable, at least in the eyes of the antagonist. I just can’t help but feel that their actions, in the end, were somewhat… half-measures? I can’t get into detail without major spoilers, but I just feel that if you’re going to leave such a massive trail of heartbreak and misery behind, you can at least aim for a little more “oomph” in your revenge.

Belle Vue is not for me: there were a number of elements which I found problematic and/or unappealing. There were also, however, many positive aspects to it which I thoroughly enjoyed (the flashback sequences in general, the villain, etc.). I read the text in 2 days, then proceeded to pore over it a second time more critically. Take from that what you will. If you are a fan of the horror genre, I suggest you give it a chance. If you’re not sold on the actual Horror aspect of it, you should at least be able to enjoy Alleyne’s prose and the intriguing, generations-spanning mystery at the core of the story.

Happy Reading!

Order “Belle Vue”

Check out C.S. Alleyne at her website, csalleyne.com

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