Prom Night on the River of Death by Jason Rizos
Don’t judge a book by its cover. I learned that reading Jason Rizos’ Prom Night on the River of Death. I must admit that from the title and cover, I was not expecting much. But as soon as I started reading, that opinion changed. I had found a gem.
What starts out as the classic horror plot of abduction, soon shows a weird side, and only gets weirder from there. In Rizos’ story we find a world of aliens, professional kidnappers, and a murderous pirate cheerleader gang. The novel is the perfect blend of horror, sci-fi, and preposterousness, as addictive as it is insane.
This is Chester’s last day as a “Shanghaier,” a kidnapper. His profession has become just another part of life, its stigmas lessening, as children become more of a commodity, an investment to their parents. Tonight is prom night, one of the most lucrative times for his trade. But when he abducts the enigmatic cheerleader Leigh Lundqvist, he realizes this is no ordinary kidnapping, taking the reader through twist after twist as the bizarre only grows more bizarre.
Written in a Southern-tinged dialect (that in no way takes away from the story), Rizos carries us along with dream-like narration, his expressive colloquial language simple and well-written. Dark humor abounds. Yet despite its casual style and silliness, this book carries a profundity that is neither in-your-face nor convoluted.
With superb worldbuilding, Rizos paints a vivid and disturbing future, revealed a little at a time. The world is consumed in a distant, evergoing war. Religion comes in the form of the Sanctified Piety Management, an organization meant to bilk the “contrite” of their money, replacing spiritual guidance with ATM-like confessions. Rizos shows us the decline of morals, politics, and religion, and what they could easily become.
The last third of the novel didn’t feel as strong as the rest of the book, my attention wavering at times. I felt the ending was lackluster, far different from the book’s powerful start. Several anecdotal “flashbacks” deviated too far from the story, halting its momentum. And I found myself uncomfortable with the age discrepancy in the romance between Chester and the much younger Leigh.
If you’re looking for page-turning bizarre fiction, look no further. Prom Night on the River of Death delivers that and then some.