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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

SPFBO 8 Finalist review: A Song for The Void by Andrew C. Piazza


Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Andrew C. Piazza makes it a point to keep people up at night with chilling and thrilling tales of contemporary fantasy and cosmic horror. He's quite ruthless about this sort of thing. He doesn't care that you have to get up for work. He doesn't care that you're supposed to be on vacation. Or the fact that your dog really needs to be walked, or your kids are suffering from terrible neglect. He just keeps making you turn the page. It's almost rude.

He's hit the #1 bestseller list in four categories and would have gotten a fifth if it weren't for that pesky Dean Koontz. Gosh, Dean, make a LITTLE bit of room for the new guy, hunh?

He lives mostly in his daydreams in an undisclosed location outside of Philadelphia, PA.

Publisher: Andrew C. Piazza (July 15, 2020) Page Count: 347 (Kindle edition) Cover art: Miblart


A Song for the Void had several things going for it right off, in terms of things I enjoy in a horror story. Not that I read a ton of them these days, but when I do, I like these smaller-focused settings. They feel more personal or relatable. 

I really liked that the story unfolded at sea. First, I just happen to love naval settings (don’t know why I don’t read more of them) and second Andrew Piazza used the ship’s atmosphere (creakiness and small spaces with no place, to hide or run), the timeframe (middle of a war with no one to trust all sides) and the isolation of being in the middle of an ocean, to all of their creepy advantages. It put this right up there with The Thing, for having all the ingredients to make the perfect horror setting.

I also prefer horror that keeps the reader questioning the main character’s (Dr Edward Pearce in this case) perception. The opium use added an element that had me second-guessing constantly whether Pearce, was on a bad trip, or if it was something meta-physical going on (Kind of like Trembley’s Head Full of Ghosts did). 

I liked too, that the writing style had a nice, easy flow, and felt suitable to the timeframe. And that there was some growth for Pearce, and opportunities to work through his own past demons, while giving us resolution and answers to a few of the questions that popped-up along the way.

A couple of stumbling blocks for me:

Occasionally it became a little repetitive in themes or thoughts, especially when Pearce was working out the details of what was going on. One of the fall-backs of a single pov and trying to make it not seem too easy, for him or us. But I do love books that let me go wild with theories, and that aspect of the story kept me turning pages quickly. (My personal favourite thought had to do with wartime experimentation.)

And I can’t say I was a fan of the choice of Big Bad- it took away a little of that personal feel, the smaller setting and spov gave us that I liked so much at the beginning. 

Though, I did like West. He was a good love to hate him kind of guy, and I would have been ok with having him be the sole villain of the piece (I think I am safe enough saying that about him without a spoiler warning since he is a dirtbag from the first meet).

Other thoughts 

Some scenes were kind of gross and enough to turn my stomach- there is something about flaying that tend to do that to me, more so than other horror-type scenes would. On the whole, though, I didn’t find it to be too much grossness at any time. I just learned to not read while eating my lunch. 

Overall, a great little horror story, that keeps you speculating about everyone and everything. 


Dr. Edward Pearce is the lead surgeon on HMS Charger, a new steam frigate serving Britain during the Opium War with China. After an encounter with a cluster of pirates, the Charger gives chase. Pearce notices a strange comet hanging in the sky … and everything gets weird.

Song is heavily steeped in cosmic horror. The opening of the story—naval battles and the reality of life aboard a nineteenth-century warship—are laden with some great action scenes and explores Pearce’s history. Told in first person, the reader really comes to know the man and his tragedies and how those plays into the story. He’s a multi-dimensional, damaged man, running from his problems. I’m sure I’ve said before, but I like damaged protagonists so for me, he was easy to get on with. Supporting characters range are generally layered and complex, with some of the stodgiest developing in surprising ways late in the story. The primary protagonist is too greasy and smug to be a mustache-twirling supervillain but was about the only one of the primary actors without much depth.

I have to say, I found the pace pretty decent as the tension and unease of Pearce and the crew mounted. I was reminded of this phrase from a Hemingway novel when a character was asked how they went bankrupt and responded, “Gradually, then suddenly.” The signs in Song that something is wrong and amiss are very innocuous and subtle at first … and when things go wrong, they go wrong in a hurry, massively changing the course of the story in a matter of pages. The pace of the second half accelerates and it’s all very compelling, heart-pounding reading.

The idea of addiction is a big factor in this story and many of the characters, including the narrator, grapple with various forms, and for various reasons. I enjoyed seeing that being handled in an even-handed manner; not totally sympathetic or condemning.

On the downside, there were a handful of scenes laden with existential postmodern philosophizing that felt a little off. While the ideas fit in with the tone of the story, the exploration of such concepts felt dull and almost professorial. I ended up skimming some of those discussions. Also, the story’s climax, while consistent, was predictable and too laden with exposition to maintain the excellent level of tension that had built up, which was a little bit of a let down.

Those criticisms aside, Song was a very enjoyable, intense read, with well-written characters. Would recommend for readers of horror, naval action, and first-person POV.


A Song For The Void is an excellent example of cosmic horror. Filled with powerful, unsettling imagery, it depicts the horrors that come both from within the mind and from beyond the stars. What can I say? I enjoy being dragged into the dark corners of the world and the human soul, and this book has it all. The sense of dread, philosophical depth, and engaging plot. 

The story takes place on the high seas during the Opium Wars in 1853. The crew of the HMS Charger, a British warship pursuing pirates, encounters a creature from beyond the stars (known as Darkstar) that drives them mad (I oversimplify things). Doctor Edward Pearce struggles with an addiction to opioids and with his past. When most of the crew members experience hallucinations, he must face personal and cosmic horrors to discover the truth and do something about it. Forced to stare into the nothing, he'll have to come up with a reason to live or die.

We have all seen monsters rip people to shreds, but the truly horrifying thing is that we do not understand the very nature of the reality we live in. Andrew Piazza skillfully creates an atmosphere of terror and uneasiness. He pays attention to small details, but never forgets that the story must remain engaging and entertaining to hold the attention of the readers. He balances slower moments with exciting, energetic action, all leading to dark revelations. No scene is wasted here.

Darkstar is a creature of lies and illusion. It loves to play with people and their limited perception of reality. It alters their minds and senses, making them see things that are not there or changing the appearance of objects. Darkstar perceives people as pathetic apes, deluding themselves with the illusion of transcendence, while they are nothing more than meat and bones driven by flawed senses.

These plotlines allow Piazza to question the nature of consciousness and identity. What are we, really, when injury or mind-altering substances can transform our behavior and perception of reality? Why would anyone believe in a transcendent, permanent soul that lives within us when a stroke or brain injury is enough to dramatically (and permanently) change us? In other words:

“There is no you, and there is no me. We’re all just clockwork marionettes made of meat, with gears inside that we don’t understand. We simply dance to whatever tune those gears tell us to, and make up a story afterwards to tell ourselves why."

The book doesn't offer cheap consolations; It acknowledges that, ultimately, we mean nothing and there may be no intrinsic meaning to our lives. Each of us, can, however, find meaning for ourselves and make the life worth living.  

I loved this book; it kept me glued to the pages, genuinely crept me out, and, above all, made me obsessively think about it and its themes. With its excellent and psychologically sound characterization and fascinating plot, it's a true indie horror gem.

A Song for The Void awed me. The engaging narrative, suggestive descriptions, and disturbing atmosphere make reading it a pure pleasure. It’s an intelligent (and hopeful!) take on nihilistic philosophy underpinning the cosmic horror genre. It's not perfect (what with the villain monologue at the end) but I obsessively thought about its themes for months. I absolutely loved it.


A spoiler (of sorts) follows, so if you haven’t read this book, maybe skip to the end.

Blah blah disclaimers. Only my opinion. 

A Song for the Void starts strong and does a fantastic job of ratcheting up the tension. The prose is seamless, never getting in the way. The characters are well-written and relatable, the growing dread handled brilliantly. 

A Song was a 9/10 right until the end when the colossal unknowable alien entity monologues and explains everything to the main character. It was so incongruous, so out of place in this Lovecraftian fever dream, I felt rudely booted from the story. The ending was, at best, a 7/10.

And so, I’m torn. 

I very much enjoyed the journey. Even with the ending, the book is still worth reading. There’s a lot to like here. The majority of the book is handled really well.

I’m going to average those two scores. 

For me, this book is an 8/10.

If you’re a fan of dark historical fantasy with Lovecraft-vibes, check this out.


A Song For The Void is one of those odd gems that on the surface seems like it absolutely shouldn’t work. This book is set in the early Nineteenth century, in the south China seas and set around the opium wars. Plus it is a nautical fantasy story that features celestial horror. So you can see why this might be a such a tricky book but kudos to the author for making this complex plot work and work superbly. Also a major kudos to Fantasy Faction for selecting this unique story to be a finalist. It takes major gumption and it is exhilarating to see such a fascinating story takes its place among the finals. Lastly I believe this is the first ever horror-fantasy to grace the finals & the second ever historical fantasy (after Suzzanah Rowntree).

The story is solely told through Dr. Edward Pearce’s POV and perhaps the story is a tad hampered with the limited POV. But the author skillfully showcases Edward who is an everyman hero with an extremely tortured past. The character cast is a varied one and one of the most intriguing characters is a Chinese woman named Jiaying who also has a complicated past. Each of the characters faces pain and their reactions to it are quite telling. The author skillfully showcases PTSD in various forms and how people try to cope with alcohol/opium/anger and other poisonous distractions.

The story is primarily a horror one and it is to the author’s credit that the horror builds up slowly and menacingly. He layers it up with other events that leave the readers questioning about if the events are caused due to opium abuse or something sinister. The story definitely takes a proper horror turn in the second half and then the action amps up as well. There’s not too much gore within this story but the author definitely utilizes the psychological component as well. There’s a lot of philosophical arguments made within the plot about the nature of existence. Humanity’s raison d'etre as well as what is the meaning of life. The author skillfully weaves these arguments within the plot and this made up the story that much richer.

One of the other things that I loved was the cover and how atmospherically vibrant it is. Another positive of the story was how cinematic this story was. I really think that this book would work superbly if it get adapted as a film. Think the Shining meets Master & Commander and you have an excellent idea about what to expect.

Lastly the one thing that caused this book to not be a 5 star read, was the ending. It didn’t quite stick and perhaps was the only thing that felt contrived. Still overall this is a wonderfully different story and one that marks Andrew C. Piazza as an author to watch out for. A Song For The Void is an incredibly nuanced historical horror story that mixes horror, solid characterization and a tense atmosphere to provide a story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it. 



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