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Review of The Guild by S. C. Mendes

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of S. C. Mendes, and even got the fantastic opportunity of collaborating with him on a few projects, such as the Magical Writing podcast. Whenever an S. C. Mendes story drops I always stop what I’m doing and head on over to read it as soon as possible.

The Guild is a culinary-themed standalone novelette that still has all the ingredients you expect from an S. C. Mendes story: layers of mystery, occult principles, graphic horror and sexuality, and deep symbolic meaning.

The plot centres around Jordan, a young guy down on his luck, one who will be painfully relateable to many readers. Desperate for money, he answers a Facebook Ad that seems too good to be true: eat one meal and get paid $300. Simple right?

The problem with things that sound too good to be true is that they often are.

There isn’t much more I can tell you about the plot without giving things away. Suffice to say this story is a curious rabbit hole that is full of grisly surprises. Mendes knows how to weave a mystery, and because of the occult principles underpinning the book, which we’ll get to in a minute, the revelations never devolve into absurdity, even though they are downright weird.

Whilst the opening of this book is truly nasty, possibly a little too extreme even for my tastes (though Splatterpunk fans will be delighted), the overall tone and feel of The Guild is a subtle horror, an interplay between a low-key body horror (that terrible knowing, where you’re sick but can’t figure out what’s wrong), and psychological horror: being caught in a dependency money trap and unable to claw your way out.

Mendes definitely pays homage to the work of Lucy Leitner, not just with the odd sly reference to stories such as Get Me Out Of This Shimmering Oasis, but also in terms of his themes and setting. It’s clear Mendes has a healthy scepticism for the wellness fad and the New Age movement, but at the same time he understands the principles on which this movement was built. In this way he uses his narrative to kind of deconstruct the corrupt modern facade of wellness and New Age medicine whilst at the same time unveiling the secret truths behind principles such as “vibrations”.

And let’s talk a little bit about vibrations for a moment, shall we?

Without giving too much away: Mendes builds his worlds and characters from the ground up. They’re anchored in real human experience. It’s because of this he can tackle such esoteric and eyebrow-raising principles as “vibrations”.Behind the faux-gurus promising you wealth and happiness if only you can raise your vibration is the very real occult idea that the whole world is a symphony of many vibrations. In essence, the universe is sound, and everything material is music vibrating at such a frequency as to seem “real”. This accounts for the way that reality seems so strangely plastic, why we can have instant connections with certain people, and why others will remain forever alien to us. The ancient Hindus called this Nada Brahma.

Whether you view this as a cool bit of fantastical world-building or a secret glimpse of the true nature of reality is up to you. Mendes never preaches, he only teases. His books are laden with more conspiracy theories than a reddit forum, but whilst he points out their innate absurdity, he also recognises they—like vibrations and other occult ideas—are based on granules of truth (after all, MK Ultra turned out to be real). Mendes is one eternal wink at the camera, a writer with the wisdom to know that you can never be quite sure what’s real; after all, our world is totally absurd. This is what makes his books so interesting.

And despite this kind of esoteric truth-drop, the story never loses sight of the people navigating the very real problems of the modern world. Nor does Mendes sacrifice character for the sake of giving us a tour of his (albeit intriguing) mind-palace. Jordan’s actions are completely believable given his circumstances, and we buy into his plight. He’s isn’t a goodie two-shoes, far from it, but we can tell that beneath the anger and self-pity is someone who is genuinely trying to do the right thing. We root for him.

Similarly, Mendes’ “villains”, or shadow-figures, are always more than machiavellian moustache-twirling archetypes. They have real motivations, which they often conceal, and it’s up to the reader to try and pierce the veil of obscurity and see their true intent. Mendes knows that the true purpose of villains is often to teach us. Jung said the Shadow Self was ninety-percent pure gold, and that’s because of the insight the shadow offers us if only we tune in to what our darker selves are trying to tell us about reality. To put this in more simple and grounded terms: people with messed up views on the world can often show us what we really don’t want to admit is true. Thanos had a point: the world really is overpopulated. No two ways about it. Of course, his proposed solution is barbaric and evil, and we condemn it. But he’s still shown us a truth.

Mendes echoes this well-known truism with his sophisticated villains. And the climax of this novelette sees our hero, Jordan, come face to face with revelations about who he is, and his world, that re-contextualises everything we have just read.

The Guild is a top-class standalone horror novella that will delight fans of S. C. Mendes and readers new to him alike.

Get it on Godless

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