Martuk … the Holy is a blend of a few different genres. I would probably categorise it as a quasi-historical literary fantasy horror. It tells the story of Martuk, born in an ancient past, into a culture I had trouble placing specifically, and sacrificed into immortality. The story is told by Martuk himself through frantic memoirs he composes in current day Paris. The memoirs comprise of two specific periods in Martuk’s past, his childhood and his violent entry into immortality, and his encounters with Jesus Christ and his disciples.
The author has a very interesting way of communicating a story. I often see exhortations of “show don’t tell”. To me, the author indulges in neither. The novel is a complex blend of images, impressions and suggestions, where comprehension is at a visceral level. It was often a bewildering but also magical experience and I sometimes felt like I was a co-narrator. The imagery was often disturbing and very physical. There was a great deal of touching and focus on hands, feet, smells and bodies in general, the prose almost throbbing with a raw sexuality. The writing really impressed me, although I did wonder if the repetitive focus on hands in particular was deliberate or could perhaps have been edited a little. I was beginning to think the author had an obsession with paws, monstrous paws, enormous and strong hands and otherwise.
Although the history of Martuk was so selectively told, I was very happy with the selection chosen. Martuk’s beginnings reminded me a little of early South American cultures with small forest tribes and large impressive cities full of blood and sacrifice. However, given the direction of the story, Martuk’s childhood would most likely have been in an early Middle Eastern culture. The narrative is full of mysticism and dark gods, doomed kings and greedy priests. It’s hard to get full control of the story being told, the essence remaining just out of grasp like a barely remembered nightmare. However, it left a strong impact regardless; the poetic imagery absorbed rather than merely consciously processed. However, for me the jewel was the narration set in Judea in the time of Jesus Christ. I have a weakness already for the retelling of Christ’s story and the author has succeeded in adding another favourite to my list rivalling the story-within-a-story of Pontius Pilate in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. There were scenes in this section of the novel that took my breath away. I don’t think I could possibly have asked for more and I don’t think I could adequately elaborate on my satisfaction without gushing.
Martuk is obviously the main character in the story and so I felt like I learned more about him than about those he encountered. However, I witnessed a marvellous depiction of Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ himself. The author chose to display his characters in intimate moments and impressions through the rather strange perspective of our demon-possessed immortal, Martuk. It is through his eyes that we see the madness of the wounded king, the diabolical ruthlessness of the elder, the passionate faith of Judas, the doubts of Jesus and the prescience of Mary Magdalene. Although none are in focus for too long, they leave their mark.
Martuk … the Holy is a very dark and fantastical tale where angels and demons blend together; where violence and sexuality are entwined and madness and clarity are confused. It’s probably not a great book for those who like clear narratives or resolved endings, nor for those who avoid violence and darkness. But for the rest of us, this is a journey worth taking in my opinion. There are already two side-story novellas in the Martuk series, which I have already purchased and enjoyed. Additionally there is destined to be a sequel which I am ready to consume once it becomes available.
I wonder occasionally, if a book hits the mark with me like this one has, whether I lose my ability to see its value for others; whether I simply ride my personal wave of satisfaction rather than dissect and analyse in an impersonal matter. Perhaps this is the case, but it’s not going to stop me from highly recommending this book, because there’s one thing I do know, and that is – surf’s up.
Price at the time of review: $2.99 US
Available: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Diesel
Author site: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5781265.Jonathan_Winn
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13555269-martuk-the-holy