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And By God’s Hand You Shall Die Feels Like A Fulci Novelization On Acid

A Bit Of Suffering Never Hurt Anyone

Image courtesy of David Sodergren, cover art by Ryan William Kay

Three things in life are guaranteed: death, taxes, and that David Sodergren is going to write another banger. Except for single-release authors, David Sodergren is the only author whose complete works I’ve read. His first novel The Forgotten Island singlehandedly got me back into reading about three years ago. Within the first few pages of that novel, I was already sold; I was ready to finish reading it so I could go on to his next novel. Sodergren is never afraid to take chances, and there is always a cathartic feeling of relief when finishing one of his nightmares. Obviously, when I saw there was a new book of his coming out, And By God’s Hand You Shall Die, I frothed with anticipation. I’ll spill the beans up front: this is his most disturbing novel yet.

No matter what form of art you are creating, if you don’t learn anything or carry over lessons from previous projects, you’ll remain stagnant as an artist. One of the characteristics I find most impressive about David Sodergren’s body of work is how each piece is somehow better than the last. And that’s saying a lot for me because his first novel is in my top five favorite novels of all time. You can sometimes tell when an artist is stepping out of their comfort zone, and you can tell when they question the choices they’re making. In And By God’s Hand You Shall Die, Sodergren’s words never falter from anything short of confident, bold, and brutally monstrous.

It’s hard to classify And By God’s Hand, as it contains many different ideas told by unconventional methods. From the opening dedication of, “Fulci lives!” you know you’re in for a treat. Sodergren’s novel is a love letter to one of the greatest Italian horror filmmakers of all time, Lucio Fulci. Now I’ve seen my fair share of giallos and Italian cannibal but it is far from my area of expertise. Thankfully David usually uses the afterward to discuss his inspirations, both film and music, for his respective writings. I was able to go back and watch the two Fulci films I hadn’t seen to fully understand where his mind was during this project.

After watching the four films stated in the afterward it was made clear that while these films have inspired this project, that’s all they are, inspirations. Whereas someone like Tarantino is criticized for stealing other people’s works under the guise of inspiration, it’s easy to appreciate how Sodergren merely uses these inspirations as fuel rather than using them as crutches to tell a more interesting story. There are a few chapters in this novel, realized after watching those two films, where I cannot help but question how Fulci had never done them before. If you would have told me this novel was written by Fulci, I would believe you. Never have I seen a creative effortlessly embody the tone, style, and substance of another respected creative, while still remaining to be original and keeping their true auteric style.

We should probably talk about the novel and its salacious prose. Before reading And By God’s Hand I most likely would have said The Perfect Victim was Sodergren’s most extreme work. Well, not anymore. Move over Katy and Jill, there’s a new badass in town, and her name is Candy. Our story takes us into the tragic tale of Candy, a young woman in college who moonlights at a brothel in ’70s Manhattan. The location of this brothel is smack dab on the ashes of a previously burned-down church. Everyone scoffs at Father Patrick’s apocalyptic proselytizing. One faithful night will test the resolve of the sex workers pit against the true terrors of God.

Guts and viscera paint each page with a tale of tragic torment. When the majority of your characters going through unspeakable evils are female, there’s a fine line a creative rides between misogyny and feminism. As a male writing this I know my voice is rather moot when it comes to my thoughts, but I can still call a spade a spade. At no point in And By God’s Hand did it ever feel like it leaned misogynistic, and it even passes the Bechdel test. Sodergren has long championed strong-willed female protagonists throughout his work.

A lot of the giallo films out there can seem inherently misogynistic. There’s a pretty woman who is being psychologically tortured, usually by a man, who kills those closest to them in an attempt to isolate the protagonist for the final kill. But when you take a step back and examine the film you must question why is it so hard for this overwhelming masculine force to finish their true victim? It’s because the female protagonists in this film are powerhouses. The black-gloved killers know the only way they would have a fighting chance at killing their victim is to completely isolate them, and in so many cases the antagonist still fails! How Sodergren attacks each angle of his protagonists is one through the lens of admiration. He has crafted strong and independent women who use their strength and sexuality to triumph over the evils forced upon them. Candy is not defined by what she does for a living, she is defined by her character, tenderness, and willingness to keep those closest to her safe at any cost.

There is a side plot that follows Officer Colt and Maroney, which at first I wasn’t too sure how it would connect, if at all. Knowing how competent of a writer Sodergren is, there was really no question that it would connect. Through sheer incompetency the officers find themselves mixed up in an apocalyptic mess of truly epic proportions. How Sodergren found a way to make everything work put a gigantic grin on my face. It’s interesting to look at the dichotomy between the female and male characters in this story. Even the most unlikeable female character, brothel owner Martha, has a go get ’em energy to her, while the hot-headed male clients immediately resort to violence, anger, and threats when faced with their respective adversities.

While it may sound like And By God’s Hand You Shall Die is nothing but wall-to-wall extreme in-your-face violence, there is a real heart to this story. There are some laugh-out-loud moments of comedy, there’s character growth between the characters themselves and their relationships with their coworker, and there’s love. If you’re a fan of violent disruptive horror with heart and a message, this novel is for you. I can’t say it will be everyone’s cup of tea, and there might be moments in it that cause a reader to revolt and question Sodergren’s intentions. But shouldn’t art make you question? Some of the events in this novel still ring true today, like how abortion clinics are picketed by religious fanatics, and to take a look at that through the eyes of a nation on the cusp of progression is fascinating.

And By God’s Hand You Shall Die is available for preorder, and releases on June 30, 2023.

Cover for And By God's Hand You Shall Die features the title in the top third, David Sodergren's name on the bottom, and the middle has a black and white image of Jesus with a woman running away in terror below.
Image courtesy of David Sodergren, cover art by Ryan William Kay

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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