Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Suspense/Supernatural Fiction: "Hidden Things" by Doyce Testerman

Any modern fantasy novel that features a creepy clown (an intentionally creepy clown, not a normal clown who just comes off as creepy) as one of its protagonists is worth at least a second look to me. And while I still can't decide if the creep clown thing is brilliantly off-the-wall or just too unsettling, that second look really pays off with "Hidden Things."

Calliope, the main character, is an extraordinarily empathetic character, even if she's a bit difficult to get a read on in the beginning. Her growth as a round, as opposed to flat, character as the story progresses is brilliantly written, subtle but clear changes in her demeanor conveying the nature of those changes. Especially poignant were the moments of unrequited feelings and unfinished between Calliope and her partner, Joshua. Some of these are represented by sections of text in italics, but it's unclear if these sections are dreams, memories, or something different. Another extremely human moment for Calliope was the experience of that moment where you realize that your parents have become your friends, sometimes against all odds. Although the true significance of her singing remained rather fuzzy around the edges, by the end of the book I was quite attached to Calliope.

As Calliope and her creepy clown counterpart investigate the strange disappearance of her business partner/ex boyfriend Joshua, she finds herself dealing with fantastic creatures that should only exist in fairytales, and some that don't even belong there. The reader learns about these magical creatures, their relationship to the mundane world of humans, along with Calliope. Some details about the Hidden Lands, as they're called, are never revealed, with the simple and sometimes unsatisfying excuse that something "just can't be explained." While this sometimes felt like the author was cheating in a way, it was forgivable in the broader context of the complete story. 

I was mildly annoyed by a quirk of writing that demanded that every measure of time be recorded exactly, from what the digital clock said to how many seconds someone held their breath tensely to the length of someone's nap. It was all spelled out in hours, minutes, and seconds. A technique like that is okay to put in once and a while, but becomes tedious when it's featured throughout an entire book. Luckily, this trend tapered off as the story progressed, with only the occasional throwback phrase.

I would recommend "Hidden Things" to the modern fantasy reader who's grown tired of the classic Tolkien cast of fantasy races and fairy-type beings. They're in for a twisted fairytale treat with this novel. Look for "Hidden Things" online and in your local bookstore this month.

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