Shanti: The Sadist Heaven by Alessandro Manzetti
South Paris 5. Hell on Earth. Where flesh is traded for sex, sadism, and sustenance. Where the sky roils with boiling rain during the Uxor Monsoon season. Where thoughts of escape are futile unless you have enough credits. Shanti, the refuge of the ultra-rich. Where the elite peddle perversions. A dream, a sanctuary away from the evils of South Paris 5, protected from the horrors of reality. Untouchable, unbreakable, unattainable. Or is it?
I’m going to be up front. Shanti: The Sadist Heaven was not in my wheelhouse as far as horror goes. I am not a huge fan of sexual violence, and there is a lot of that here. I mean A LOT. The writing, however, is amazing. I can see how Manzetti won a Stoker on top of his numerous nominations. He opens the book with a clear setting: bleak and broken; oozing with desperation and depravity. This holds throughout the setting of a city ravaged by catastrophe. Manzetti uses colors in stark contrast to such a dark, dank, and dangerous world (the red coat girl from Schindler’s List and for some reason Frank Miller’s Sin City came to mind). He also blends his horror with Sci-Fi elements that make for some interesting encounters and scenes.
There are quite a few different characters in Shanti, many of which only stay with the reader for a scene or two. But Manzetti does great work in showing the desperation in each, the hopelessness that is South Paris 5. The story does mostly follow the lives of two sisters, Juliette and Justine, having been ‘adopted’ by a ruthless madam of a brothel who promptly sells them off to perverts and human traffickers. Both dream of escape, and get it, but not in the way they envision it.
Shanti: The Sadist Heaven refers to the oasis city, the holy city that is away from all the hardships and horror of the outside world. It is a beacon of hope and beauty; but only for the ultra-rich men of the world. Just because it is away from that reality doesn’t mean that it’s free from the horrors of forced sex work and the like. It is called the Sadist Heaven. It is a paradise for these men. But all of that may be coming to a crashing end.
While this type of horror is not my cup-o-tea, Shanti: The Sadist Heaven is wonderfully written, and the setting is captivating. If you are into human trafficking, some body horror, cannibalism, and sexual violence (a lot of it…) then pick up this book and walk the streets of South Paris 5 and Shanti. But if you find yourself outside of Shanti, beware the Seris; you do not want to be put into one of their wells. Trust me.
What was the inspiration for this story?
I was inspired by Marquis De Sade masterpiece 'Justine', trying to move it into my dystopian, post-apocalyptic imaginative world, where most of my stories are set. It has been a challenge reinterpreting some themes of that famous, heretic novel, guiding them to the 22 century, giving them new life. But Shanti is not only a kind of futurization of 'Justine'; my 'Holy City', the Shanti artificial paradise, the main setting of the novel, is a grotesque, extreme and graphic metaphor for the privileged compared to mass surveillance of the population of modern world, and for the values crisis we are currently witnessing here and now, not only in my brutal, cannibalistic, depraved future world, where these themes are brought to exasperated levels.
There's a lot of characters in this story coming in and out, how do you keep track of them all and also come up with so many unique personalities?
The novel is part of a imaginative world-building, I love to work on recurring characters, telling something more about them in different novels and stories. As for Shanti, it's the case of some of the main characters, like Kiki, Messerschmitt, Big Blue and others, which you'll find in my other works. I keep track of them thanks to a kind of map (and timeline) of my future world, where many characters are coming in and out, as you said, continuing to live (the few survived) in this sort of alternate reality with so many sliding doors.
I work hard to build the personalities of some characters (specially the women, usually the main characters of my stories), trying to give unique souls, making them as real as possible, because it's the only way to achieve reader's trust and credibility, especially if you're working on a series, or a saga.
There's also a lot of epic scenery, were there any real life places that inspired you?
I was obviously inspired by some districts near the Seine, in the city of Paris, and by the Sonoran Desert, so fascinating, with an amazing color palette. As for the city of Shanti, I was partly inspired by the Vatican City (I was born in Rome), projected in a dark, immoral future. Sorry for this blasphemous reference, but you know, my pen has been de-consecrated times ago. As for the setting of the novel, I would like to tell you a weird anecdote. One of the locations of Shanti is the Flamingo Casino in Vegas, turned into something very different. Well, 2 years after writing the novel, I received in the same Casino my first Bram Stoker Award (in 2016). Really an odd coincidence.
What's coming next, anything you can tease for future works?
Well, now I'm working on a new novel, titled'New Sodom'(to be released in Italian in July 2019, and in English in Q2 2020), always set in my imaginative future world. Again, this book will be marked by Marquis De Sade, since it will contain a kind of apocryphal of his lost novel'Les Journées de Florbelle ou la Nature dévoilée'. But this time the Marquis himself will be one of the protagonists of the story, cloned thanks to advanced technologies.
Also, I have a new story collection, titled 'The Radioactive Bride',(containing 18 new stories, all set in my dystopian world) coming in Q3 2019 from Necro Publications. In some stories of that book you'll find some 'Shanti' characters, like Kiki and Messerschmitt, in action in other locations, for new adventures. It's a way for me to continue to tell something more, through the voice of new and recurring characters, about my post-apocalyptic universe, that basically represent what awaits us around the corner, unless things change.
Alessandro Manzetti (Rome, Italy) is a Bram Stoker Award-winning (and 7-time nominee) author and editor of horror fiction and dark poetry.
His new story collection, The Radioactive Bride, will be released in Q3 2019 by Necro Publications, and his new poetry collection The Place of Broken Things, written in collaboration with Linda D. Addison, will be released in July 2019 by Crystal Lake Publishing.
Awards and Nominations:
• Bram Stoker Awards 2015 winner
• Bram Stoker Awards 2018 nominee
• Bram Stoker Awards 2017 two-time nominee
• Bram Stoker Awards 2016 two-time nominee
• Bram Stoker Awards 2014 nominee
• Splatterpunk Awards 2019 nominee
• Splatterpunk Awards 2018 nominee
• Rhysling Awards 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 nominee
• Elgin Awards 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 nominee
• This is Horror Awards 2017 nominee
He is the CEO & Founder of Independent Legions Publishing (recipient of the 2017 HWA Specialty Press Award), an HWA Active member and a former HWA Board of Trustees member.
You can follow him on Twitter HERE
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