Author: Shantel Brunton
Publication Date: 1 August 2021
Available As: Paperback and e-book
Nicole faced a horrific tragedy at a young age. Ten years later, everything seems to be okay. She is happy with her life and she feels content. This quickly begins to change when she receives disturbing letters that appear from nowhere and voices haunt her waking thoughts. The voices say the most disturbing things. Her nightmares feel more and more real. She has no idea why this is happening to her.
What is lurking in the shadows? Maybe the better question is who?
Tortured Innocence is the debut novel of Shantel Brunton; interestingly, the book actually first released in 2017 but, after learning more about writing and marketing, Shantel has revisited the text and re-released it with a new cover and to a wider audience.
Tortured Innocence is written from the first-person perspective of its main character, Nicole (or “Nikki”), a young girl who witnessed a traumatic event as a child and has a strong bond with her father. Growing up idolising him and mostly alone, she suffers from both a bit of social anxiety around others her age, terribly explicit nightmares (which begin to bleed into her waking life), and comes to hear voices that taunt her at every turn.
The book is very much like reading an unending nightmare of various different complexities and layers. Shantel makes a point to warn readers beforehand (both in the book and on social media) of the book’s explicit content and make no mistake, there is a great deal of uncomfortable imagery and situations in Tortured Innocence. These elements of the book really made me think of the Hellraiser film series (Various, 1987 to present); the use of knifes, whips, bondage, and imagery of flayed skin and Shantel’s vivid descriptions of blood and suffering conjured this imagery to my mind and it was intriguing seeing how unrelenting these sections of the book are.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with this; Shantel is scarily good at describing the ghastly torture and abuse that Nicole comes to endure throughout her tumultuous life but, for those easily triggered by scene imagery, it may be better to exercise some caution before starting Tortured Innocence. Others who had lived through similar trauma, however, maybe find that they connect with the book on a deeper, more emotional level; Shantel’s themes of loss, torture, abuse, and mistreatment are potent and near constant and assault Nicole (and, by extension, the reader) in a barrage that she is forced to endure.
Tortured Innocence has a bit of a disjointed flow and pace but this actually factors into the book’s overall, surprisingly surreal conclusion. Despite the isolation and trauma of her childhood, Nicole is a relatively normal young girl at the start of the book who continually becomes targeted by more and more reprehensible individuals seeking to use and abuse her. Add to that the semi-supernatural elements of the story, which taunt and haunt Nicole with words and nightmares of great loss and torture, and the book ends up taking numerous unexpected twists and turns.
“Unpredictable” is actually a perfect way to describe Tortured Innocence; every time I thought I had a handle of where the story would go, Shantel throws a sharp turn into the macabre or the bizarre before finally embracing that latter thread with the introduction of her own, unique supernatural entities, the “Mecrathin”, and the surreal, nightmarish nature of their ways and world. This was an intriguing twist, one that turns a lot of the book’s previous direction and not only ups the ante of the book’s explicit content but also serves as a significant turning point for Nicole as a main character and a woman.
Startling and unrelenting in its escalating, grisly content and subject matter, Tortured Innocence is a hell of a debut for Shantel Brunton and positions her as one of the more macabre-minded independent authors I follow. I never knew what to expect from the book as I read it and it felt as though there was never a safe moment to stop and process what was going on, which is a great reflection of the chaotic and horrific events that the main character has to endure. It may be a difficult, almost traumatising read for some but I do think it has a strong underlying message of perseverance through harrowing events and maintaining the fortitude to stand up to that adversity wherever possible.
If you’re interested in checking out Tortured Innocence, the book is available to purchase on Amazon. To learn more about Shantel Brunton and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of this review.