Jason has been homeless for months, fleeing his grief and the abusive partner who precipitated it. In a little seaside town down south, a chance encounter leads to a free meal and the chance for some stability. The staff at the Taylor Point House cares for all manner of cast-offs and misfits – including Helen, the owner’s daughter, plagued by debilitating visions of an encroaching darkness from another world. That world is struggling against its own imminent unmaking, and while the humans at Taylor Point House muddle through their days trying to care for one another, a battle for all existence is raging just out of sight.
KING OF NIGHTMARE’s essential strength is its confident prose. Half of the plot takes place in a parallel world of ideas, myths, and memories, all given ghastly substance by vivid description. The “creature design” is imaginative, repulsive, and clear, filling this world with broken or half-formed beings, more inside than out, with too many appendages or too few organs all on display for the reader. The space itself is also impressive, from the well-employed tropes of impossible distances or vast edifices crumbling away on the edge of existence to warm, almost personable details: much of this world is hewn from black rock in which living veins of silver respond to touch, swimming toward the surface like fish in a pond. But that same strong prose ably tackles description of the Taylor Point House, a historic residence run as a B&B by an endearing cast of characters, each hiding the secrets and trauma that brought them there. The details here are mouthwatering: homey kitchen scenes take pride of place, intimate interactions smuggled in amidst coffee, biscuits, and hot scrambled eggs.
Although the prose itself evinces the technical chops to carry the weight of the worldbuilding and the multi-dimensional plot, KING OF NIGHTMARE makes some odd choices about its character work. All of the people in the text are well-described and compelling, but two in particular lack the focus they need to successfully fill their roles. One – a sympathetically-underwritten sex worker – is the human character that actually crosses from one world into the other, forming a crucial link between events in the two worlds and becoming the backbone of the parallel-dimension plot. Despite her journey structuring these scenes – and despite the fact that other characters frequently describe how important she is – the text barely spends any time with her before whisking her away to the other world, and even there, her male companion (the eponymous King of Nightmare) seems to dominate their interactions. The second character in need of a punch-up is ultimately a primary antagonist – the woman whose actions set the main protagonist in motion, and who forms the greatest threat to the characters on earth. Although frequently remembered, discussed, or observed, her own perspective is never shown; even when the reader meets her directly, she’s always seen through the eyes of the male protagonist. Neither character makes it impossible to understand or enjoy the story, and overall KING OF NIGHTMARE clearly appreciates and respects its female characters; from a structural standpoint, however, the storytelling privileges the perspectives of Jason and the eponymous King, rather than the women who are the true motive forces in their respective worlds.
Underpinned by lush descriptive language that can convey quiet charm or abject horror at an epic scale, KING OF NIGHTMARE effectively balances the intimate and the alien.
~Dan Accardi for IndieReader