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Book Review & Interview: THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE by J. H. Moncrieff

Published by Flame Tree Press
Janine's Review:

THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE first came onto my radar after being recommended to me by Nightworm, Andrew. After he had Beta read something of mine which was police based with a twist, he told me that I should check out this cool story that talked about a Native American mythical beast. It immediately piqued my interest, and lets’ just say, I was hooked after the first few pages.

The blurb mentions a camping trip that goes horribly wrong and my mind took me straight to Crystal Lake, but boy was I wrong and glad of it. This book follows two main characters, a young white man called Reese and a female detective of Native American heritage called Maria Greyeyes (awesome name). I really liked both of the MCs and the majority of the supporting cast. The story is told beautifully and had some genuinely heart-breaking, gut-punching moments.

Without wanting to give anything away, the mythical beast itself is simply terrifying yet it’s backstory is almost worse. You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean. I am all for supporting books that make you feel slightly uncomfortable. The past isn’t always rosy and certain atrocities should not be swept under the carpet. There are some horrific scenes within this story that have nothing to do with the beast, and all to do with the horror that is man, and particularly, white man privilege. If that makes you feel at all squirmy and guilty, good. 

All in all, I thought this book was wonderful. I loved J H Moncrieff’s voice and characterization and will definitely be checking out more of her work.

5/5 for me.

You can find Janine's work at Tales to Terrify, Ghost Stories the podcast, and The Horror Tree. Coming this year she has shorts with Kandisha Press, Iron Faerie Publishing and Black Hare Press, as well as a super exciting secret project. 
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Matt's Review

"Where the story really shines is the use of Native American folklore and legend. J.H. Moncrieff tells a wonderful tale through flashbacks to the native people, "The Lost Tribe" and what happened to them. The history of the land is crucial to what caused the curse and how it can be lifted. I particularly enjoyed the character of Chief Kinew and how reluctant he is to trust people from the white world. The author does an excellent job illustrating the divide between the town and the reservation. It really helped to drive home the level of bigotry and prejudice that his people have had to deal with over the centuries.

I enjoy creature tales and while this story is not exclusively a "creature feature" there is enough about the Wendigo here to really whet my monster whistle. I wasn't completely familiar with the Wendigo before reading this story, which was a nice surprise, I always enjoy learning about new monsters. Even if you are familiar with the Wendigo, you need to check out this book from J.H. Moncrieff, it's good" 4 stars

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John's Review
Those Who Came Before has a lot to like for horror fans. It tells a super interesting story and features a brutal, vengeful creature that is, simply put, a thing of nightmares. The more I read this book, the more fascinated I became with the creature doing the killings, and was eager to learn about the history surrounding Strong Lake and the curse upon the land. The writing here for the most part is excellent, words flow easily and I found myself cruising through the pages. Despite this, I did come across a few things that bothered me. I found the actions of both main characters to not be very convincing in more than one instance. I couldn’t help but think that someone accused of murder wouldn’t act this way, and a Detective on a police force definitely wouldn’t do that. There were a few plot elements that didn’t really work for me and felt like a wasted opportunity, and I wasn’t a fan of the ending. I don’t mean this to sound overly harsh, I still greatly enjoyed the book, so much so that I still highly recommend it.

With her latest novel, J.H. Moncrieff has proven herself an author to watch. A terrifying creature and an excellent story premise rise above the few problems I had, making for a damn good time following the Strong Lake murders. I’ll be on the lookout for further releases from this author.

4/5 stars

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Sadie's Review
Mark your annual calendars for July 4th and type or write in, "Flame Tree Press Annual Book Sale". This is the second time I have taken advantage of this yearly sale; picking up several hardcover books for $5.00 each. In this book haul: THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE by J. H. Moncrieff.

This book begins with a familiar horror trope: A camping trip goes horribly wrong when a small group of friends is stalked, hunted, and brutally murdered one by one. But then the story begins to take on some originality, carving a new path towards genre-blending a creature feature with a supernatural thriller--almost on par with King's THE OUTSIDER. There are a lot of similarities in the sense that there is a strong procedural crime/investigation element mixed with the unexplained. Reminded me a bit of X-Files as well.
The lone survivor of the massacre at Strong Lake, Reese Wallace, is a suspect. He seems to have experienced something in the woods that nobody can make sense of except one detective, Maria Greyeyes, feels strongly that his unbelievable story is worth checking out.
Maria is Native American but has a strong belief in facts over folklore. She ventures out to the scene of the crime and uncovers more than just clues to finding the monster responsible for the murders but artifacts from "The Lost Tribe".
I absolutely loved the way Moncrieff carried readers through dual narratives: The present and the past. The flashback stories were utterly captivating and I found myself investing in that tale so hard, I would feel disappointed when the next chapter was in the present timeline, but then as soon as I picked up where we left off, I was immediately sucked back into those characters as well so hats off to the author for balancing two stories effectively.
*heart check: I felt a check in my spirit while I was reading and began to wonder about stereotypes and authenticity. I wasn't sure but this little red flag to cause me to sit up a little straighter and pay attention since this book was not marketed as #OwnVoices and I've been extremely sensitive about indigenous representation in fiction lately. So I decided to reach out to the author and ask about the process for writing this story--her response is amazing and informative.

This book definitely captured my attention and I'll be reading more from this author. I love the way she built a solid mystery and wove two timelines in together, ultimately folding the past into the present, seamlessly. I'm a huge fan of genre-blending suspense thrillers and horror and this supernatural, creature-feature is gory and brutal enough to satisfy horror buffs but meaty enough to entertain thriller lovers. I did dock it a star for the heart check but feel confident that my uncertainties were answered well.


A word from the author about THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE 

Growing up in a small, northern community in British Columbia, Canada, I was surrounded by indigenous families who were successful, happy, and healthy. Our formal school education about the First Peoples of this country was limited to the fish and fur trade, and the perspective supplied came courtesy of a very biased, settler-based point of view.

I learned nothing about the residential (boarding) schools, genocide, the 60’s scoop, diseased blankets, or any other atrocities that indigenous peoples had suffered until I moved to another province and became a journalist. My first job was at an indigenous paper, where I visited reserves that had no clean drinking water, met with those who were protesting the abuse of their treaty rights, and spent time with a man who was walking across the country to bring awareness to the plight of youth suicides in his communities. I quickly became committed to do whatever I could to help—no one should experience the level of suffering and poverty I witnessed, especially in a developed country.

As protests erupted across North America (Standing Rock in the U.S. and Wet’suwet’en in Canada, among others), racism and ignorance reared their ugly heads as well. “What are they complaining about? Why can’t they just let this stuff go—that was a million years ago,” are some of the comments I heard. It will come as no surprise to any indigenous person that many non-indigenous people are still completely in the dark about what they have gone through, and are still going through.

I’d undergone indigenous cultural training from a respected Shaman in my community. I received my spirit name. I stood with Standing Rock. And yet, I knew I was taking a risk by centering Those Who Came Before around indigenous culture and trauma. Even having sensitivity readers, some named and some unnamed, would not necessarily shield me from criticism.

I wrote this book in good faith, with the best of intentions. It is meant to be an entertaining spooky story with a sobering history lesson for those who are willing to receive it. My Shamans are healers, not mystics. There are no “savages” in my novel, but there is a highly traumatized young man, a product of settler rape, who was impacted by the horror of his conception and his mother’s inevitable rejection. The matriarchal society portrayed in Those Who Came Before was based on years of research, listening to oral histories, and working in a museum that specialized in preserving indigenous culture and working within those communities. It was not meant in any way to be a stereotype. However, it is fictional.

Discussing racism, inequality, and the crimes of our past history in North America will be always be controversial. But, despite the risk of incurring rage, I believe it’s the responsibility of writers everywhere to shine a light on these subjects, and to ask the difficult questions. My work is in no way intended to replace the work of indigenous horror writers, and I highly recommend Stephen Graham Jones, Cherie Dimaline, and Owl Goingback, just to name a few. I do not attempt to tell their stories; I have only told the stories of my characters. I have done my best to honor those who guided and shared their culture with me. – J.H. Moncrieff


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