Indian Burial Ground

Other than the non-fiction works I've read these last few weeks, I haven't read a fantasy or science fiction novel that I've really enjoyed in many a month. In an attempt to switch gears, I decided to go for something different and Nick Medina's new horror book sounded intriguing. I was hoping that the change of scenery would do me good, but Indian Burial Ground turned out to be a major disappointment.

For some reason, I was never able to get into it. It's likely due to the fact that the cover blurb is quite misleading. It was Noemi's plight that piqued my curiosity and made me want to read this novel. But it turned out that her scenes are little more than interludes in the greater scheme of things. Indeed, about 75% of the tale revolves around Louie's backstory from the 80s and I never connected with his character the way I did with his niece. I wanted to quit early on but chose to persevere, hoping that something interesting would happen before the end. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Here's the blurb:

A man lunges in front of a car. An elderly woman silently drowns herself. A corpse sits up in its coffin and speaks. On this reservation, not all is what it seems, in this new spine-chilling mythological horror from the author of Sisters of the Lost Nation.

All Noemi Broussard wanted was a fresh start. With a new boyfriend who actually treats her right and a plan to move from the reservation she grew up on—just like her beloved Uncle Louie before her—things are finally looking up for Noemi. Until the news of her boyfriend’s apparent suicide brings her world crumbling down.

But the facts about Roddy’s death just don’t add up, and Noemi isn’t the only one who suspects that something menacing might be lurking within their tribal lands.

After over a decade away, Uncle Louie has returned to the reservation, bringing with him a past full of secrets, horror, and what might be the key to determining Roddy’s true cause of death. Together, Noemi and Louie set out to find answers...but as they get closer to the truth, Noemi begins to wonder whether it might be best for some secrets to remain buried.

My main gripe with Indian Burial Ground is that it's not really a horror novel. Perhaps growing up on Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz has inoculated me somewhat, but I found nothing really creepy, spooky, or scary about this story. Perusing reviews on Goodreads left me scratching my head, wondering if those people had read the same book I did. Spine-chilling? Give me a break. I never felt any kind of suspense or tension.

One of the main reasons I wanted to read this novel was because Nick Medina is an Indigenous author. Indian Burial Ground is imbued with Native American lore and culture, which is great. Medina's depiction of life on a reservation, with its lack of opportunities, its helplessness, its hopelessness, the substance abuse problems, the mental health issues, and the suicide rate, is extremely well-done. That was by far my favorite aspect of this book. How all these elements were woven with the folklore and legends to portray the lives of men and women who could live in reservations across the USA is brilliant. However, the horror elements, or lack thereof, are a bit uninspired and half-assed at times. And though the blurb implies that Louie and Noemi's search for answers makes up the bulk of the tale, the truth is that the better part of the book recounts Louie's past.

There are two POV protagonists in Indian Burial Ground. Naomi, whose perspective is set in the present and which begins with the news that her boyfriend apparently killed himself. Though she is in many ways a stereotypical Native American female who has fucked up her life in several different ways, now that things were looking up for her it's impossible not to care for her and be heart-broken by what she's going through. Louie's perspective takes us back to the 80s, to a time before the grand opening of the casino, when living conditions on the reservation were even harder. He's a seventeen-year-old boy fighting as best he can to keep his family together. In the throes of alcoholism, his mother is just of a shell of the woman she used to be. To make matters worse, his aunt is a single teen mother and leaves him to babysit her infant daughter, Noemi. Looking ahead, Louie's prospects don't look good. Given that his storyline makes up about 75% of the novel, Louie is a more well-defined character and you can't help but to feel for him. It's when the supposedly spooky stuff begins to happen that things sort of go downhill. Because this book is not about discovering Roddy’s true cause of death, which was what made me want to read the book in the first place. No, the book is about what happened to Louie and the rest of the reservation back in 1986 and what led him to leave it behind later on. The supporting cast, most of them clichéd to a certain extent, would have benefited from a bit more depth. Especially Jean-Luc, whose true purpose in this story I never quite grasped.

The pace is uneven throughout Indian Burial Ground. Which is not surprising given the disparity between the two timelines. Noemi's scenes are usually very short and do little to move the story forward, while Louie's sequences can be long and are at times a little overdone. Connections between the past and the present can be awkward and don't always manage to convey that the horrors visited upon the reservation in the past could be happening all over again. That more than anything else is probably why I could never get into this tale.

While the end of Louie's 1986 plotline was compelling, the ending of the novel itself felt a bit flat. Still, though Indian Burial Ground offers a bleak portrayal of life on a reservation, Nick Medina came up with an ending that provides hope for the protagonists and for Native Americans in general.

How this one could be labeled a horror novel, I'll never know. . .

The final verdict: 5.5/10

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