Halcyon is my first novel-length exposure to Rio Youers, although I had previously read only a single short story from him in the anthology Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror. In fact, it was that short story that made me eager to read more of Youers work, and Halcyon served as an excellent introduction to his long-form writing. I suspect, though, that a simple WOW! isn't quite satisfactory enough for a review, but it encapsulates my feelings perfectly.
For the first 30-50%, Halcyon is a bit of a dual narrative that ultimately meets in the middle. On one hand, you have a cult whose members are carrying out unrelated terror attacks in various American locales. On the other hand, you have Martin Lovegrove and his family, who are doing their best to cope with daughter Edith's night terrors. Her night terrors, in fact, are premonitions of violent incidents linked to Mother Moon's cult activities. As the story progresses, and without spoiling the nitty gritty of it all, Martin's family and Mother Moon's cult grow inextricably entwined.
Rio's writing is top-notch, and his storytelling prowess is honed to a knifepoint's edge, cutting bone deep at times. He lulls you in with a naturalistic style, and builds up his characters in ways subtle enough that even minor events carry the strength of a powder-keg's blast, but when he really goes for the heart and soul it's with unflinching brutality. Halcyon gave me two particular moments of tragedy in which I had to set the book down for a bit in order to regroup; it's been a while since a book has done that to me on an emotional-level, so huge kudos to Youers for that.
Beyond his excellent character work, I absolutely loved the concept of Mother Moon's cult, which felt perfectly real to me, as well wholly understandable, even a little bit sympathetic. Building off present-day American politics and disillusionment I could, perhaps too easily, believe why people would want to escape to Halcyon and Moon's promise of a simpler, back-to-basics lifestyle. It's more than tempting to leave behind our world of daily mass shootings and the instant-rage machine of social media to live off the grid on an idyllic island retreat, free of the daily grind, where you can reconnect with your family, know your neighbors, and enjoy the beauty of nature. Of course, there is that bit of fine print warning you to be careful what you wish for and if it sounds too good to be true, well then...
This is a book that's packed with suspense, tragedy, several moments guaranteed to ramp up your blood pressure, and plenty of horror from both the supernatural kind and the all too-real world around us. I really cannot recommend it enough, and I think this is a title that is just as deserving, if not more so, than some of this summer's much-hyped reads. Halcyon perfectly balances moments of soul-crushing despair with uplifting hope, reminding us that even in our darkest moments there's still some light to be found if only we look hard enough.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher, St. Martin's Press, via NetGalley.]
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