Two months ago, Wren woke up covered in blood, suffering from memory loss, and surrounded by the remnants of some strange cult ritual. SPINES is the story of her search for answers, and the deadly, powerful people she encounters along the way. The full series is now available.
I’m a huge sucker for the Identity Amnesia trope. It’s a great way to establish a sense of mystery from the start and let us discover a new world through the eyes of the protagonist, and Spines uses this trope to great effect.
Spines is a single-narrator story told through the audio logs of Wren Jones, a woman with mysterious powers looking for answers about her past and the strange cult that experimented on her. Wren gets her name from the cactus wren, a brave little bird that isn’t afraid of the spines. Wren is also listed as playing herself in the show credits, though I’ll let you decide whether the voice actor playing her is actually the superpowered result of a cult ritual gone wrong or just a pseudonym.
Each episode opens with a quote from her, followed by a great intro theme. Other than that, the sound design is minimal, opting to have Wren narrate her environment rather than showing those sounds directly, making this feel almost like an audiobook. Occasionally, another narrator will tell an episode from their point of view. What sets Spines apart from a regular audiobook is the atmospheric soundtrack that plays behind the narration and adds to the unsettling feel of the story.
You can almost say that this is a dark superhero story, but the feel is most definitely horror. I mean, who would want the superpowers of ripping the water from someone’s body or manipulating human flesh like Play-Doh to create monsters? It doesn’t quite have the same appeal as more conventional abilities in comics, like flight or super strength or having rich parents.
The first season follows Wren’s investigation into the other people who were in the attic with her during the cult ritual. She tracks each of them down, learning that they have strange powers similar to hers. Slowly, she starts to piece together the reason why the cult is interested in her.
One thing I really enjoyed about Spines was its approach towards romance. I wasn’t thrilled with the initial direction it looked like the story was taking, with a predestined relationship between star-crossed lovers who don’t actually have much in common. Pretty soon, the story pivots into a completely consensual and wholesome romantic relationship between Wren and a nonbinary character.
It took me a couple of episodes to feel fully invested in the story, but once I passed that point I enjoyed the show immensely. Fans of horror and dark fantasy will find plenty to enjoy in Spines.
Spines is a free horror audio drama available through iTunes or wherever you find podcasts. Find out more on its website, or check out the first episode below: