We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely FineTitle: We Are All Completely Fine
Author: Daryl Gregory
Published: 12 August 2014
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Genre: horror
Rating: 7/10

Daryl Gregory’s novella is only 192 pages long, and I finished it all in a rather enjoyable rainy Sunday morning. It’s horror, but it’s fairly light horror. It’s got monsters and suffering and appalling torture, but it’s also got lots of humour and hope.

It begins with six unusual people coming together for group therapy. Harrison became famous as ‘The Monster Detective’, a hero who inspired a series of novels. Stan became equally famous after being imprisoned by a family of cannibals who ate his limbs (and his friends). Barbara claims that someone known as the Scrimshander cut her open and peeled back her flesh to carve messages on her bones. Greta’s body is covered in dense, intricately carved scars. Martin refuses to ever take off his sunglasses, but sees things others don’t.

Each of these patients are sole survivors, marked by scars inside and out. They’ve all faced monsters, but Dr. Jan Sayer is the only therapist who has not dismissed their experiences as delusion. She’s brought them together, hoping that their knowledge of a monstrous other world will enable them to help each other live in the normal one.

I requested this book because the blurb suggested that it could be a fantastic character study, and the novella certainly delivers on that point. For the first half or so, there isn’t much of a plot. The characters just tell their stories and we get brief glances into their current lives. And it works very, very well.

Gregory’s writing is excellent, masterfully detailing the characters – Harrison’s awkward tendency to overthink everything; the polite, well-groomed appearance that covers Barbara’s tortured past; the way Martin immediately develops an antagonistic relationship with the rest of the group. For a while Greta is noticeable only because of her persistent silence, while Stan, on the other hand, dominates every session with indulgent monologues about his suffering.

Whether I liked these characters I can’t quite say, but I was instantly invested in hearing their stories, understanding who they were, and how the hidden world of demons and monsters had shaped them. We Are All Completely Fine is, first and foremost, a character-driven story and it works brilliantly as such.

But there is a plot and, unfortunately, when this starts to develop about halfway through, the novella begins to falter. This is partly because it’s not a great plot. Although it ties the characters individual stories together quite neatly and gives us a bit of action, it’s just so… dull. Like something from a B-grade horror movie.

A second problem is that the plot comes to dominate the story when it’s actually the weakest element. The characters, who were strong enough to drive a narrative on their own, fade into the background of a plot that’s not nearly as interesting as they were. I still enjoyed reading about them, especially as Martin comes out of his shell and Stan’s old-man grumpiness lends a  wonderful dose of humour, but it just wasn’t the same.

The novel starts out feeling fresh and well-crafted, and then degenerates into something totally forgettable. I was left with the odd feeling of being very pleased and terribly disappointed at the same time. Since it’s so short though, I’d say it’s worth giving it a shot.

The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

The Boy Who Could See DemonsTitle: The Boy Who Could See Demons
Author: Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Published: First published 10 May 2012; this edition published 13 August 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: psychological thriller, fantasy
Rating: 7/10

People look at me funny when I tell them I have a demon. “Don’t you mean, you have demons?” they ask. “Like a drug problem or an urge to stab your dad?” I tell them no. My demon is called Ruen, he’s about five foot three, and his favorite things are Mozart, table tennis, and rice pudding.

That’s Alex, a highly intelligent, totally charming but very troubled ten-year-old boy. And as he mentioned, he has a demon named Ruen, although Ruen is not quite as nice as Mozart, table tennis or rice pudding. He always takes one of four horrific forms, and while he claims to be Alex’s best friend, he often harasses and terrifies him too. But as a gifted, eccentric child living in an Irish ghetto with a severely depressed and neglectful mother, Alex has no other friends or companions.

When Alex’s mother Cindy is hospitalised after her fourth suicide attempt, child psychiatrist Anya Molokova is tasked with treating Alex. She believes that he may have early-onset schizophrenia and that Ruen is a clear indicator of this. While Alex’s social worker wants to improve his home-life and keep the family together, Anya wants Cindy declared an unfit mother so that she can medicate Alex.

Anya, however, can’t help but drag her own issues into the case. Her daughter Polly suffered from schizophrenia and died as a result. Anya has never gotten over the loss and knows that she needs to be very careful about projecting her daughter onto Alex as an attempt to make up for what happened in the past.

For the reader, the story is a different sort of conundrum, with the primary question being – is Ruen real or not? For the most part, the answer seems to be a definitive yes. Half of the narrative is composed of Alex’s diary, and he gives us a sense of what a serious presence Ruen is in his life, not to mention all the other demons he sees wandering around all the time. Obviously, his POV is deeply subjective and therefore unreliable, but Alex tells us things that about Ruen that suggest he’s real. For example, Ruen takes nightmarish forms that go beyond the mind of a ten-year-old. None of them are pleasant, and even the more benign ones make Alex uncomfortable at the very least. Ruen also tells Alex things that he couldn’t know otherwise, and this frequently comes out in Anya’s portion of the narrative, forcing her to consider the possibility that Alex can really see demons. It might have been more intriguing, perhaps, if Ruen’s reality were more uncertain, but personally I like the element of horror he brings to the novel.

Then there are little details that make you doubt Ruen’s existence, at least briefly. For example, two of Ruen’s forms resemble Alex. As ‘Ghost Boy’, Ruen looks exactly like Alex “only in a funny kind of way: He has my exact same brown hair and is as tall as me and even has the same knobbly fingers and fat nose and sticky-out ears, but he has eyes that are completely black and sometimes his whole body is see-through like a balloon.” When he takes the ‘Old Man form’, he looks frighteningly ancient but he dresses like Alex, in old tweed suits (Alex’s wears the too-big suits he found in a wardrobe in their house; his mother can’t afford normal children’s clothing and Alex seems to like his bizarre outfits). Things like this imply that Ruen is in some ways a reflection of Alex, raising the possibility that he’s just a product of Alex’s imagination.

And Alex is clearly not your average ten-year-old. He’s an amazing kid and a wonderful character. He’s lived a poverty-stricken life in an Irish ghetto, been neglected by his depressed mother, and witnessed her four attempted suicides. He doesn’t hold any of it against her though – he cares about her, and wants to make a better life for her (although this in itself is quite sad, given that he’s only ten). He’s a sweet, independent child with a lively mind. He’s involved in a modern production of Hamlet featuring child actors and he plays Horatio with flair and dedication. I loved reading the diary entries that made up his half of the narrative. The fantasy side of the novel is couched in his POV, which is quirky, funny, tragic, disturbing – all good things to me.

Anya’s narrative is quite different – serious, analytical. It’s not quite as enjoyable, but it’s not bad, giving the reader the realist perspective on Alex’s story. Anya tells us a lot about child psychiatry and her theories about Alex’s behaviour and Ruen’s presence. She tends to dismiss or weakly rationalise what she can’t explain (like how Alex seems to know about Polly) but you can easily see how certain details about Ruen lead her to interpret him as a delusion. She also describes links between children’s mental illness in Ireland and the country’s turbulent history with terrorism. Her belief that Alex needs to be medicated for schizophrenia looks like a serious mistake to the reader – Alex seems perfectly sane and needs decent housing more than drugs – but I didn’t dislike her because she clearly cares about Alex. Her slowly-revealed backstory with Polly also lends emotional weight to her narrative, so that even when you don’t agree with Anya, you can empathise with her.

I like the psychological entanglements of plots like this, but the pace also picks up as Ruen becomes increasingly sinister and demanding. It was a great read… except for the ending.

Up until a certain point The Boy Who Could See Demons is complex and full of uncertainties. It’s a great clash between fantasy and the psychological thriller. I had no idea how it could be resolved, but as I read I kept thinking about possible solutions and twists, happy endings and devastating ones. And, admittedly, I was still quite surprised by the way it turned out. Sadly, my surprise was matched by my disappointment, because the ending takes an otherwise interesting and unusual book and turns it into a tired old cliché that I hadn’t expected to see. I wanted to send the book back and ask for a more daring and inventive rewrite of the last chapter, those few pages where it all went south.

But it is what it is. I think it’s worth reading if you like psychological thrillers, and Alex is a lovely character. You might be annoyed, as I was, that it suddenly fails to be as good as it could have been, but that doesn’t make it a bad book.

Review of Faustus Resurrectus by Thomas Morrissey

Title: Faustus Resurrectus
Author: Thomas Morrissey
Published: 17 April 2012
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Genre: thriller, crime, fantasy, horror
Source: review copy from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 7/10

Donovan Graham has just completed his Master’s Degree in Philosophical Hermeneutics, with a thesis on the Faustus legend. Philosophical hermeneutics, explains Donovan, is “the study of interpretation, but really it’s the search for truth. […] Traditional hermeneutics studies interpretations of written works; religion, law, literature. Modern hermeneutics studies everything. That would be me, specializing in mythology and religion.”

Donovan’s studies make him a useful consultant in a police case involving two unusual murders with possible religious and mythological significance. Donovan quickly realises that the murders correspond to signs of the zodiac, as body parts corresponding to the star signs have been removed from each of the corpses. A serial killer named Cornelius Valdes is at work, and his murders are for the sake of a ritual that serves a larger, more sinister purpose.

Donovan works together with his mentor Father Maurice Carroll, and Sergeant Frank Fullam of the NYPD, to stop Valdes, but they’re largely unsuccessful. Valdes is resourceful, determined, and he has a monstrous, 7-foot tall henchman to aid him. He’s a man hell-bent on revenge, and to help him achieve that he plans to summon Dr Faustus, the scholar who sold his soul to devil in exchange for earthly knowledge and power.


Faustus Resurrectus is the debut novel of author Thomas Morrissey, and the first in a planned series featuring Donovan Graham. Donovan, I think, will make a nice protagonist for a series of occult thrillers. He’s part scholar, part man of action. He knows krav maga, he’s worked as a bouncer, and he rides a motorcycle. He currently works as a bartender in an upmarket restaurant, so we can probably assume he’s good at talking to people. And he’s got a sensitive side, as he shows when he’s with his fiancée Joann.

Of course, he also knows quite a bit about the occult, religion, mythology, and the Faustus legend in particular, as does his friend Father Carroll. Morrissey makes full use of this. The novel features loads of information about things like the materials used in rituals (from fertility rituals to Satanic ones), the symbolism behind the number 13, and the history of resurrecting people from the dead. Donovan and Father Carroll also discuss the Faustus legend on many occasions, quoting from both the Marlowe and Goethe versions of the story. It’s pretty cool.

Because the occult rituals themselves are so interesting, about half of the narrative is actually written from the perspective of the serial killer, Cornelius Valdes. In an odd co-incidence, ‘Cornelius’ and ‘Valdes’ were the names of two sorcerers who taught Faustus. Anyway, since we’re privy to the workings of the main villain, there isn’t all that much mystery to the novel, but it still makes a decent occult thriller. The story gets increasingly dark and twisted as Valdes progresses with insane schemes; readers with an aversion to violence and gore should avoid this one.

In keeping with the Faustus story, there are related themes about free will, faith and, most notably, the idea that reality is flexible. The latter comes up often, as characters struggle to deal with increasing intrusion of the paranormal into their world. This is partly what makes the investigation so difficult – the NYPD doesn’t exactly have a division that handles supernatural forces. Any suggestion of Satanic rituals immediately undermines Donovan’s credibility, and even he can’t quite believe what he finds sometimes. He and the others desperately need to adjust their ideas about reality, because although the story begins as a normal murder mystery but by the end it’s an apocalyptic fantasy horror (in the grotesque and gory way, not a scary one).

Then there’s the issue of free will. Donovan’s thesis “discussed predestination and free will in Marlowe—was Faustus destined to go to Hell, or was it his choices—his free will—that led him to ruin?” Donovan and other characters argue for free will – it is always our choices that either damn us or save us. One character argues that the essence of suffering is in knowing that our pain is caused by our own stupid, prideful choices.

There’s quite a bit of musing about faith, in yourself and in God, mostly from Father Carroll, who in my opinion has a tendency to get a little too preachy. In a recent interview though, Morrissey revealed that Father Carroll was actually the easiest character for him to write, because he uses Carroll to express his own ideals about faith. I’m grateful then, that Morrissey allows Donovan to temper Father Carroll’s words with his own, more sceptical views. If not, I think this novel might have come across as something of a religious lecture.

It certainly takes a very black and white approach to good and evil; there are no debates here about it being better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. Still, the clash between good and evil has always been a reliable source of entertainment, and it’s no different here. Faustus Resurrectus is a strong debut and a good read for those who like to dabble with the darkness. I look forward to more Donovan Graham novels from Thomas Morrissey.

Buy Faustus Resurrectus at The Book Depository

Review of The Antithesis: Book 2β by Terra Whiteman

Title: The Antithesis:  Book 2β (Two Beta)
Author: Terra Whiteman
Published: 19 October 2011
Publisher:  1889 Labs
Genre:  genre mash-up of mythology and science fiction
Source: own copy (ebook)
My Rating: 7/10

Terra Whiteman left me dangling from another cliffhanger at the end of The Antithesis: Book 2α.  I was trapped. I had to read the next instalment right away so I clicked my was over to Smashwords and bought the ebook (it’s only $2.99; money very well spent)

Note: this review contains spoilers for books 1 and 2a in the series.

Book 2β picks up a few days after the end of Book 2α. Qaira is in hospital recovering from his fall from the Archaen ship after his devastating battle with Lucifer. He managed to chop off the Archaen’s hand but also got his entire team slaughtered and would most likely have been killed too if Leid hadn’t come to save him.  The battle destroyed half of Sanctum and killed over a hundred thousand Nehel, but achieved absolutely nothing. This is enough to make even Qaira realise what an arrogant, selfish, stupid bastard he’s been and he makes a public apology. When two Vel’Haru come to take Leid back to their home world to be punished for violating the terms of her contract, Qaira caves completely. Devastated at the prospect of losing her forever, he swears to end the conflict and let the Archaens make the Atrium their home if only the Vel’Haru will let Leid stay with him.

The two Vel’Haru agree, and a decade of peace and social reform follows. Sanctum is not just rebuilt but improved upon, with the help of the Archaen’s advanced technology. A slow process of integration begins, and even Lucifer and Qaira manage to work together. Leid and Qaira get married and they live very happily.

Everything is just dandy, but, based on book one, you know that this story can only end in an epic disaster. It keeps the novel a bit tense even during the good times. You’re often reminded that heaven and hell will be at war several centuries from now, thanks to several appearances (in this book and Book 2α) of angels who will later become demons. Book 2β also sees the first cases of the deadly respiratory disease that afflicts the angels. According to book 1, Yahweh will eventually create a cure that (unknown to him) will affect the angels at the genetic level, turning them into demons. I really liked the idea that ‘god’ created the demons and that it was the angels’ prejudice towards this new race that started the war. From books 2α and 2β however, you can understand the root of that prejudice – the demons look just the Nehel (red-rimmed pupils, black wings), who oppressed the angels for decades.

But more important, for now, is the very volatile couple at the centre of the story. You know that Leid is keeping some extremely dangerous secrets, and you know that Qaira is eventually going to do something horrific. If you started to warm to him, know that very soon you’ll almost certainly want to scream curses while beating the crap out of him. He’s struck by an appalling tragedy for which he blames Lucifer and then becomes completely obsessed with revenge. The novel doesn’t definitively state whether or not Lucifer is innocent, but either way, Qaira’s revenge is so destructively over the top that there’s no hope of redemption for him. His actions are also the catalyst for what we know must happen – the extinction of the Nehelian race, with the exception of Qaira who is sent to the Nexus and has his memory wiped, to become Alezair Czynri.

Once the novel concludes the this tale, it leaps back to the time of book one and picks up where that narrative left off, having equipped you with some of the backstory that puts the later story into better context. Alezair Czynri wakes up in the Nexus, having relived the story you just read. He reclaims his identity as Qaira Eltruan, now more pissed off and hateful than ever.  Lucifer, no longer willing to let his people suffer miserable lives in the cold, dark, subterranean levels of the Atrium, makes a decision to change the course of the war.

The novel builds up to fresh conflicts and violent clashes but once again, Whiteman ends it without resolutions. But this time I couldn’t go out and get the next book because, unfortunately, it hasn’t been published yet. I’m told that The Antithesis: Book 3α will be released sometime in February, but an exact date has not been decided upon. I for one cannot wait and will be sure to get my hands on a copy as soon as frickin’ possible.

Buy a copy of The Antithesis: Book 2β