To be quite honest, I didn’t have very high hopes for Knuckle Supper. I’ve never been a fan of the exploitation genre, and in my experience splatterpunk novels tend to trade off talent and plot for unnecessary blood and gore. The synopsis of the story reads:
“Los Angeles’ drugs are run by the undead. When the LA heroin-addicted vampire and gang leader named RJ reluctantly takes in a twelve year-old prostitute called Bait, humanity is introduced to his otherwise lifeless existence.”
Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but on top of everything else that I mentioned, I’m also getting pretty sick of vampire stories. Very few of them nowadays are worth mentioning, even fewer are worth reading. Now, with all that negative crap being said, Knuckle Supper was incredible. I would rank it as one of the best vampire novels I’ve seen, and it was easily one of the most shocking pieces of fiction I have encountered. The low expectations I had for it were blown out of the water, and I feel guilty for judging the book by its cover.
Knuckle Supper is not like any other novel I have read, whether supernatural or ordinary fiction. Drew Stepek has created a new breed of vampire, with a unique origin story, and I applaud him for it. This is not your typical vampire, and it is not the type of horror fiction I am used to. The book is brutal, honest and terrifying; and it does not rely on the supernatural to do so. Stepek has written a biting critique of addiction, apathy and violence and while RJ (the main character and vampire) is a drug-addicted, murderous monster, he is still a hero.
Throughout the novel, characters are used, abused, exploited, tortured and murdered for some of the shallowest reasons you can think of. Sex, money and power are king (not like I expected much different out of an LA drug gang story) and the depths at which the characters sink for their next fix, or to gain control of a rival area, is just deplorable. Even the human characters are monstrous; at some points in the novel they prove to be even worse than the vampires, which is impressive and disgusting all at the same time. The depictions of sexual abuse and molestation are profoundly disturbing, but the worst part is that the characters (other than RJ) don’t seem to find anything wrong with it.
The violence is graphic and stomach turning; I don’t think I’ve read a novel that depicts brutality so bluntly since American Psycho, and it was hard to read at times (mainly because I was reading while eating lunch). The eponymous “knuckle supper” comes up in the first pages of the book and involves shooting up a victim with heroin, tearing off a finger at the knuckle, then ripping the arm off and sucking the drugged blood out of the severed limb as if it was a beer bong. And that’s the mild stuff.
Stepek is completely out of his damn mind, and I love it. Throughout the novel he peppers in small jabs towards Twilight and the sissy Goth vampire culture that has began to creep into the realm of horror like an advancing patch of weeds, and he makes his points well. Vampires are not supposed to be an ideal; they are not objects of affection. Vampires are supposed to symbolize the evil that is present in mankind; dark desires, blood lust and rage and Knuckle Supper is full of that.
I cannot wait for the sequel.