Name: A Cosmology of Monsters
Author: Shaun Hamill
Number of Pages: 448 (Kindle)
Published: June 2nd 2020 by Titan Books (first published September 17th 2019)
Genre: Horror, Fiction
Stephen King’s It meets Stranger Things in a tender and terrifying coming-of-age tale of haunted houses and the monster at the door.
Noah Turner’s family are haunted by monsters that are all too real, strange creatures that visit them all: His bookish mother Margaret; Lovecraft-obsessed father Harry; eldest sister Sydney, born for the spotlight; the brilliant but awkward Eunice, a gifted writer and storyteller – the Turners each face their demons alone.
When his terminally-ill father becomes obsessed with the construction of an elaborate haunted house – the Wandering Dark – the family grant his last wish, creating themselves a legacy, and a new family business in their grief. But families don’t talk about the important things, and they try to shield baby Noah from horrors, both staged and real.
As the family falls apart, fighting demons of poverty, loss and sickness, the real monsters grow ever closer. Unbeknownst to them, Noah is being visited by a wolfish beast with glowing orange eyes. Noah is not the first of the Turners to meet the monster, but he is the first to let it into his room…
A Cosmology of Monsters. Catchy title, isn’t it? It stuck in my mind for a while before I eventually decided I couldn’t wait any longer and had to start reading the book. Cosmology. Sounds magical.
And the cover. Simple, striking and a little bit ominous.
Add to that a great synopsis detailing haunted houses and monsters and a mention of Stranger Things and Stephen King’s It and it was inevitable this book would catch my attention.
You could say I was looking forward to starting this.
Our narrator is Noah Turner, youngest member of the Turner family, and he recounts the family history; from the initial courtship of his parents and their visit to a haunted house attraction to their very own haunted house project in which the whole family becomes involved, there is a detailed picture of family life that makes these characters so real. You care for them and endure their trials and struggles whilst hoping everything will be alright for them in the end.
There are interludes throughout the main narrative, The Turner Sequence, in which each family member has a surreal experience with the mysterious City, imagined horrors mixed with memories from real life. At first this seems strange, but it all starts to pull together as the story progresses.
And, of course, there’s a monster. Wolf-like and menacing, it appears that other members of the family have encountered the strange being, but it’s young Noah who actively encourages it. He’s curious and unafraid, and befriends the strange beast, calling it My Friend.
As well as literal monsters there are other horrors of real life – broken relationships, serious illness, a family becoming more divided, unexplained disappearances and not knowing what happened to that person – and it’s perhaps these horrors which take centre stage for the most part.
The haunted house project becomes a source of income for the family as they construct and develop The Wandering Dark over the years. Immersive and involving, it involves various scare rooms, all with a different theme, and all the family contribute something to the place, later working there as actors in a live-action horror experience.
The relationship between Noah and My Friend is intriguing, and kept me wondering and speculating for a while. What is the monster? Where did it come from? Is it real at all or just a fantastic imagining? So many questions, so much going on and it’s so very hard not to say more about all this!
There are few if any jump scares (is that what you’d call it in a book, it certainly is in a movie?) throughout the book, but there is a sense of fear and menace that grows as the story progresses and we watch this family for whom we’ve come to care experience all manner of heartbreak and distress. They certainly don’t have it easy.
There were so many unexpected things throughout the story, taking the narrative in new and increasingly surreal and strange directions, but I don’t want to say too much more and risk spoiling the read.
A Cosmology of Monsters is an intriguing blend of family life mingled with horrors both everyday and otherworldly, and I would give it a try if you’re looking for something a little different, a little strange, a little scary and a little mysterious.