Carrion Comfort is one of Dan Simmons’s earlier works, first published in 1989. It is about psychic vampires who feed off of other people, manipulating their thoughts and thereby controlling their actions.
The notion of a psychic vampire is what made me want to read this book — it’s an idea far too interesting to pass up. Simmons’s vampires are unique, and they do live up to the hype in some ways. Ultimately, though, they often tiptoed right up to being absurd and ridiculous. The lack of believability at certain parts of the book diminshed my enjoyment of the novel. If there had been fewer completely unbelievable scenes — unbelievable even in the context of horror fiction — Carrion Comfort would be far more haunting than it is.
In addition, the book is needlessly long, weighing in at nearly 900 pages. The story could easily have been told in two hundred fewer pages. Major portions of the plot drag on for pages and pages, while other portions are redundant. These faults made it difficult to become engaged in the novel; until the halfway point or so, I was tempted to put it down.
Despite these two big complaints, Carrion Comfort is so well-written that it can easily sink into a reader’s psyche and give her a lasting case of the heebie-jeebies. The characters are interesting, especially the villains, even if they are not completely compelling or believable. Simmons seems to shine when he is depicting characters the reader will probably absolutely loath; his heroes (and victims) are almost boring in comparison.
Carrion Comfort is known as a horror novel, but it reads more like a psychological and political thriller. A chess theme serves to unify all the different plot points in the book, a technique that isn’t unique, but which serves Simmons’s purposes.
Carrion Comfort is dirty, gritty, violent and bone-chilling. Its needless length and meandering plot, however, suggests that the novel could have used a strict editor. Simmons’s talents are not on full display here. Carrion Comfort could have been a tightly wound, hair-raising thriller, but its length and the occasional unbelievability instead make it merely a solid 3-star book.