Exoskeleton was published in 2012, but I only came across it recently when I saw an advert for it in my Facebook newsfeed. There was a quote from a reviewer on the ad that said, “This book left a stain on my soul.” Naturally, being drawn to all things dark and sinister, I decided I had to read the book.
The cover also drew me to Exoskeleton. With its completely black background and strange symbols, it reminded me immediately of some occult text. More than that, the cover made me want to read the book. It hinted at the darkness within, and without reading a word of the blurb, I had already decided to read it.
So was I disappointed after all that initial intrigue? Absolutely not! I’m happy to report that Shane Stadler has written something of a sci-fi horror, cult classic that succeeds on every level. The biggest complement I can give this book is that it gave me the same excitement I used to get when I read books as a teenager. Back then, when I read stuff by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Lansdale and a whole slew of other writers for the first time, I did so with an excitement and sense of immersion that I don’t seem able to find to often these days. Some of that joy in reading has been lost. When I read Exoskeleton though, I found that sense of excitement again, the thrill that comes from reading something that is dark and edgy, and from reading something that many people out there would disapprove off.
Exoskeleton is a dark book, there is no doubt. The story involves Will, the protagonist, being put into a research facility after being accused of a crime he did not commit. He is given a choice: twenty five years in prison, or one year in a compressed punishment program. Will chooses the latter, having no idea what he is getting into. Neither does the reader.
It quickly becomes clear however, that Will is involved in something far darker and far more sinister than he ever imagined possible. He soon finds himself the victim of systematic torture, facilitated through the Exoskeleton suit that the books title alludes to. I don’t want to give anything away here, but Will’s experience inside the suit is as dark and as painful as it is possible to get, and we as the readers get to experience every agonizing second of his torture along with him.
The idea behind the story is fresh and original. The author is to be congratulated for being so inventive, and also for writing a book that just seems to zip along without boring the reader even for a second. I loved the author’s terse style of writing. It added to the generally fast pace of the story and made you feel like you were reading a really engrossing thriller.
The details in the book-especially those related to the Exoskeleton and the descriptions of torture-were spot on and made the whole thing seem very real and very plausible. The dental torture scenes have to be read to be believed, and for me, they were the most visceral of them all. You can’t help wincing while reading them.
What I liked as well is the way the author used Will’s extreme and out of the ordinary experience to explore certain spiritual and philosophical ideas related to the concept of the soul, and to human existence in general. For me, this exploration was greatly appreciated and really helped to add depth to the overall story and to Will’s character development.
The end of the book was pretty awesome and kept me engrossed right to the last page. There is an almost comic book feel to the last part of the book, but not in a bad way by any means. It’s more in what Will becomes by the end. That’s all I’m going to say on that. Read the book and you will know what I mean by this.
Exoskeleton is also one of those books that needs to be made into a film right away, as I couldn’t help but think the whole time I was reading it. It’s just that kind of story, and if I’m right in thinking, a movie is in the works. Let’s hope so anyway!
Overall, I loved this book. It is has now become one of my firm favorites and I can’t wait to read the sequel, Tympanum, which will be released any day now.
Rating: 5 stars
Get Exoskeleton from Amazon.
Check out Shane Stadler’s website for news, background and updates here.