The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski

The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski
Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (162 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Doctoral student Paige Ambroziak is a “station bunny” – she’s never set foot off the deep space outpost where she grew up. But when she’s offered a small fortune to join a clandestine salvage mission, she jumps at the chance to leave the cutthroat world of academia behind.

Paige is convinced she’s been enlisted to find the legendary Manifest Destiny, a long-lost colonization vessel from an era before the corporations ruled Earth and its colonies. Whatever she’s looking for, though, rests in the blood-like seas of a planet-sized organism called a fleshworld.

Dangers abound for Paige and her shipmates. Flying outside charted space means competing corporations can shoot them on sight rather than respect their salvage rights. The area is also crawling with pirates like the ghoulish skin-wrappers, known for murdering anyone they can’t extort.

But the greatest threat to Paige’s mission is the nauseating alien parasites which infest the fleshworld. These lamprey-like monstrosities are used to swimming freely in an ocean of blood, and will happily spill a new one from the veins of the outsiders who have tainted their home. In just a few short, bone-chilling hours Paige learns that there are no limits to the depravity and violence of the grotesque nightmares known as…THE HEMATOPHAGES.

There are no friendly aliens here.

I appreciated how much time Mr. Kozeniewski spent on the world building and character development before the plot sped up. Having such a detailed introduction to the strict, corporate-run society Paige grew up in made it easy for me to bond with her. Paige’s childhood had not been an easy one, but it had shaped her into a strong and self-reliant woman. I really enjoyed having such a deep understanding of how those early experiences shaped the person she became as an adult. They made her heroic acts later on in the plot even more exciting than they might have been for someone who didn’t have quite so much to lose.

My only piece of constructive criticism has to do with the plot twists. While I definitely enjoyed following Paige’s adventures, the fact that I could predict what would happen next so regularly did make me wish that I could have been surprised by what the characters experienced more often. It was a minor complaint about a tale that I otherwise had a great time reading, though.

Yes, there were many gory scenes in this book. It’s something that is to be expected when characters visit a planet that has oceans full of blood, after all. The violence served an important purpose to the plot, though, and I liked the way it was folded into what had been a much tamer adventure story in the beginning. I knew the characters so well at that point that I couldn’t stop reading until I’d found out what their fates were.

I’d recommend The Hematophages to anyone who is in the market for dark and violent science fiction.