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The Blade Between


The Blade Between

Hudson, New York, is a real town along the Hudson River, once a seat of industry and later infamous as a center of vice. Recently Hudson has undergone something of a revitalization --- now recognized as a destination for the LGBTQ+ community and others charmed by its restoration of architecture and business revival.

While this influx of new people, ideas and establishments seems to have worked for Hudson, author Sam J. Miller envisions a Hudson where gentrification leads to a near-apocalyptic destruction of life and property as old spirits and modern technology collude to resist change. THE BLADE BETWEEN is a fast-paced, blood-soaked, supernatural thriller with plenty of madness, sex, socioeconomic commentary and even romance.

"...a fast-paced, blood-soaked, supernatural thriller with plenty of madness, sex, socioeconomic commentary and even romance."

Miller’s Hudson had once enjoyed a thriving economy based on whaling. Massive whale corpses or dying whales were moved via river to Hudson to be butchered and rendered. The bones and blood of the animals settled in the soil, and their spirits, becoming tethered, grew angry and powerful. Ronan Szepessy left Hudson decades ago, after suffering homophobic violence and bullying while growing up there. He became a successful photographer and rarely returned home to visit, even as his father’s health rapidly declined.

But 20 years after his last trip home, Ronan wakes up on the train to Hudson with no memory of boarding and no idea why he is going there. Being in Hudson means being confronted by painful memories, but he also sees firsthand the gentrification taking place with blocks of antique shops, hip coffeehouses and the real estate takeover of tech billionaire Jark Trowse, who is running for mayor.

Almost immediately, Ronan runs into Dom, his high school best friend and first love, now a town police officer. Dom’s wife Attalah, a social worker, is spearheading an effort to keep Trowse from buying up all the Hudson real estate and evicting local tenets. Trowse’s power enrages Ronan, and soon he and Attalah hatch a plan to take Hudson back. Ronan soon realizes that malevolent forces, the godlike ghosts of murdered whales, have influenced him and others not only to fight against Trowse’s policies but also to tear down Hudson, bringing it back to the state of economic impoverishment, close-mindedness and rampant addiction that it had been wrestling with for so long. Why exactly? For revenge and control, it seems, though Miller struggles to explain the ghost-whale motivations.

As the election draws near, and then as Trowse handily wins, a wave of intimidation, blackmail, vandalism and violence sweeps through town. Dom, before Ronan confesses his ghostly conversations and visits to the “deepsea,” grows concerned about the irrational behavior he sees in town, but Ronan knows more of the truth: “...there are ghost whales in our heads, whispering in our ears and deforming our dreams until we do terrible things.” It is a strange and promising premise to be sure, but Miller occasionally loses control of his tale, and the result can be more chaotic than frantic, more confusing than compelling.

THE BLADE BETWEEN is a fantastically extreme reaction to gentrification, but many of the social issues it addresses are all too real. Hudson as a poisoned town populated by traumatized people and those who would prey on them is a great setup. The characters, even the heroes, are shady and complex, and even though the plot moves at a brisk and exciting pace, it is a bit sloppy and garbled. Still, Miller gives readers plenty to ponder: cultural ills, chilling scenes, the power of love and friends, lessons from the past and hope for a better future.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 11, 2020

The Blade Between
by Sam J. Miller