Book Title: Night Terrors (Shadow Watch Series #01)
Author: Tim Waggoner
Number of pages: 352
Meet the fine men and women of the NightWatch: a supernatural agency dedicated to hunting down rogue nightmares that escape from other realms when people dream about them, while ensuring that other dream-folk are allowed to live among the regular, human population… as long as they play by the rules
(re: Goodreads @ Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
– Look beyond the cover design, if the synopsis interests you—consider the read
– Multi-layered storytelling focusing on crafting an atmospheric, dark urban-fantasy with fast-paced action sequences while underlining a comedic approach to nightmares
– Imaginative parallel world building that highlights the melding of each dimension in each other’s world; and also integrates juxtaposed personalities (day/night aspects) of the incubi
– Characters can still be rooted for but there is a lack of development masked by quirky and witty dialogue/bantering
– Reiteration and reaffirmation of thoughts may read and feel burdensome but they are not necessarily infodumps
I will certainly be the first to admit that clowns are a no go if given the choice. From It to Bozo the Clown to Are You Afraid of The Dark….let’s just say that my childhood isn’t very fond of them–which is funny I guess because I’ve seen so many variants through television and Cirque shows etc. After reading the synopsis, I was like “okay, cool—sign me up” then the novel opens up with this dedication:
“This one’s for all the coulrophobics out there. Mr. Jinx hopes to visit each and every one of you real soon.”
Like…pls….my heart can’t take it. ….but I trod along.
Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of Night Terrors through NetGalley for an honest review. I extend my thanks to Angry Robot for providing me the opportunity to review this book. By discretion of the author/publisher, quotes were removed from this review.
Disclaimer: There may be spoilers inherent to this review from this point onward.
If the enjoyment of this novel is correlated to curing coulrophobia (fear of clowns) then I am still ill-behavioured to think otherwise; and this novel has failed to tangibly change my perception on them—they’re still creepy as hell to me. Luckily, success isn’t tied down to this shameless fear of mine. While this novel may not be breaking new grounds in the supernatural urban-fantasy genre, the overall packaging of the narrative is still one that can still be enjoyed even if the main plot device of dream manifestations may exude similarity to other story lines. Yet as an initial installment of the series, the seamless world building and quirky dialogue is one that works cohesively in tune with each other to support the rapid pacing of the novel—the novel literally take place over two days. Yet ultimately, I felt as though some events are easily foreseeable and thus the enjoyment factor can be lessened through by this measure.
On a superficial level, the cover design is quite dubious to me as the initial point of contact and face value of the novel. It’s certainly not turning heads and asking for the synopsis to be given a shot. While that may just be me being shallow, the selling point is in the brief; and often times, readers may not get to that point with a lackluster cover to support it. Though this may be one of those to each their own moments…it’s certainly food for thought for readership potential. Note that I’m no Photoshop Guru myself to make these claims but it certainly feels like layers of monochrome vectors and grunge brushing. My two cents.
The premise of Waggoner’s Night Terrors considers what life would be like if nightmares were metaphysically realised and a parallel world for such creations existed. The story follows the relationship between Ideator, Audra Hawthorne, and her Incubus, Jinx, through the dark avenues of Chicago and in The Land of Nod; the parallel-world and abode for nightmarish creatures. The process of ideation to metaphysically realise an incubi takes years of recurring nightmares on the Ideators part; each dream taking a step further toward becoming so real that they exist. Once full ideation is achieved, Ideators hardly ever (apparently, anyways) need any sleep. Rest, maybe—but sleep is unnecessary. Both Audra and Jinx work for the Shadow Watch, an enforcement organisation headquartered in Nod to keep tabs on both spectrums of life to monitor and rectify issues surrounding rogue incubi causing havoc or mayhem. When their latest mission is a bust, the plot drives the usual crime-fiction detective trope of a cop being reassigned (or let go) from a case…only to continue following their lead without permission. But what begins as a standalone incident is just a fraction of what’s to come (isn’t it always…?) and they’ll need to pull all the stops to uncover the truth.
For the most part, the world building is where this novel shines. From a setting development, it’s structure and environment is imaginative (as far as urban-fantasy goes) without being too farfetched in present reality. There are randomized doors which change locations on any given night that take Ideators and their Incubi through to Nod (and back out again). Add to this the idea that Maelstrom energy is the fundamental substance and energy of being for all that is supernatural with this nightmarish life, the story crafts and itemizes similar objects we all know from pop-culture and media and weaves it to work for the plot (i.e. ray guns that go pew pew). Additionally, the conception in the architectural environment of Nod is interesting to imagine; with a concentric ring ish design which distinctively separates and categorizes different statuses and well-being of Incubi
Further to this is the juxtaposition in Incubi personality and behaviour from day-to-night is striking. For example, Night Jinx is what you’d expect a clown to be: a fucking clown. Menacing, psychotic, crude, and abrasive only scratch the surface of Jinx as an entirety. Day Jinx, on the other hand, is passive and rational, with a pale physical complexion which errs on the side of albinism, he’s logically sound and generally empathetic. By creating stark contrasts in both forms, Waggoner may have unintentionally and abstractly personified the root core of some individuals—not the entirety of humanity by any means—but certainly a small portion of people who on are superficially one dimensional characters with polar opposite behaviours and values deep down. …Or I’m just crazy and I read into things way too much, you can take your pick.
And major props for Waggoner to integrate tangible entities normal readers might get spooked by: spiders, darkness, the candy man, snakes, …ninjas? Most of these incubi characters were uniquely created and cleverly described using the reigns of the world to support the plot.
But all good things must come with some flaws.
Hypocritical complaint incoming. I have no doubt that Waggoner can write—he’s demonstrated this through layered storytelling in this particular narrative. But while all is good, I still have to question some aspects that seem overwritten and an unnecessarily overstatement of ideas (I know…me calling out unnecessarily overwritten content–go figure?). Considering the narrating as part of Audra’s character perspective could very well be a possibility. So while I (at times) appreciate the continual, on-going thinking through Audra’s eyes, the justification (and then reaffirmation) made throughout the narrative is burdensome to read through. Of course, call me a hypocrite since I ramble on-and-on about nonsense, but here’s how some passages read to me: I hate to eat apples; proceed into long description about it; then revisit the main issue and state that’s why you hate to eat apples. Rinse and repeat. Not to mention that in a lot of ways it can pass as passive voicing where readers are told instead of being shown things. I understand the desire of being immaculately vivid with the story one wants to tell but once something is overdone, I feel as though it bogs down the writing. This isn’t to say that the novel was laden with random descript infodumps—that’s not the case at all—the world building and thought-induced detailing were separate beasts…if that makes any sense (which it probably doesn’t), it was just meticulous choices in writing that didn’t work for me this time around.
What makes the layer of detective plotting refreshing is the success in the witty dialogue that pokes fun at the concept of what goes bump in the night. In many ways, this novel is more a dark urban-fantasy comedy than any save-the-world debacle (which I guess it is on some extremes). But readers don’t need to get seriously invested because Jinx doesn’t take anything seriously—it’s all fun and games (and menacing sadism). I mean, why should we take things to heart if he doesn’t? Alternatively, there are times in Audra’s voicing that I just couldn’t grasp the change in (presumably) everyday spoken language that are suddenly associated with all things Nod-ian. However, the banters do feel very present, modern, and often sounding like they’re up-to-date with the lingo of the everyday—mixed with an Nod/Incubi flare. I mean…she used the word ship (like the fandom shipping).
The relationship and character development isn’t extremely supported for immense growth—yet readers are likely still able to root for this ragtag duo. The only notable differences may involve information retention for Audra to further understand how she (and Jinx) has gotten to where they are. Further to this is the idea that a romance aspect is in play as an avenue of discovery for later novels. The power in their relationship is when they’re being quirky together, and it’s this facet which continues to drive the novel. While Audra isn’t a damsel on her own, she’s not written to be one where we feel extremely empathetic towards. However, minor characters in this novel are a tricky thing. Readers will trod along and learn about some of their back story but when the protagonists are in a fickle, some of them are there almost out of convenience to support Audra and Jinx.
In the end, Night Terrors is not really what I imagined it to be. And I think that’s a good thing? While there are certain scenes that just didn’t work for me, the story is easily propelled by the dialogue between the main protagonists. So despite my reservations, this novel pulls together a multilayered story save for some much needed character development. But while there is some degree of finality to this initial novel, there are certain avenues left for exploration that might allow from for this growth. With all the positives of this book, it doesn’t really touch on anything game changing or enlightening. At least, it’s not discretely spelled out for readers. It’s by looking beyond into the darkness; the nightmarish unknown, and deep within to find and create value in the experiences that our personal fears afflict on us—whether or not you want to consider that is your own issue.
All i know is: I’m still afraid of clowns. Slightly better, though… maybe.
As a matter of bonus, you can check out my music monday selections that matches songs to a particular scene/theme from this novel. You can click here to learn more!
//end of much nonsense.
Is it weird how timely it was that when I finished this, a discount promo for a Cirque show appeared on my feed. Maybe it’s a sign.