Let's cut right to the quick - The Mouth of the Dark is weird. Seriously weird. Like bug-fuck, batshit crazy weird. Tim Waggoner revels in weirdness here, revealing new layers of oddities and arcane horrors on nearly every page. Yes, it keeps the book moving, which is exactly what you want in a narrative whose timespan is so firmly compressed (the events of The Mouth of the Dark take place within about 24-48 hours or so), but hot damn is it ever weird.
Weird isn't a bad thing, though, and it's one of the central selling points behind The Mouth of the Dark. On its surface, it's about a man searching for his missing daughter. As these types of stories often require, the father takes a trip down a wickedly dark rabbit hole and uncovers a secret world, in this case Shadow. Existing alongside our own daily rigamarole, only a certain special few can see Shadow and the peculiar life lurking within. There's green-gloved men who eat paper covered in hot sauce, couples who eat dogs, and a horrifying entity called The Harvest Man. The Harvest Man has breath that can kill - breathe out, and a black cloud envelops his victim. Breathe back in, and the victim turns to ash. He's like a wickedly fucked up Lamaze teacher with a case of halitosis cranked to 11. Oh, and there's also killer sex toys that sprout tentacles to help users rub one out while asphyxiating them.
Jayce discovers all these things in pretty short order, and Waggoner continually assaults him and us readers with new information and odd-ball scenarios on the regular. Discovery is the name of the game here, and in searching for the absent Emory, Jayce keeps finding more and more dark corners to peek into and only barely survive. Some of these corners involve the secrets of Shadow, while others pertain to his own buried and forgotten past, and nearly every single one of them posits some intriguing bit of fantastical horror. Others are a bit more personal, and frankly Jayce is kind of a creeper when all is said and done, what with his strangely frequent musings on his daughter's sex life and what potential kinks she may get off on. This struck an odd, disquieting note with me. Although Jayce isn't incestuous, he simply seems to let his mind wander down some off-beat tracks and Waggoner is content to let it flow, eschewing any darker aspects between father and daughter, thank goodness.
The Mouth of the Dark largely succeeds on the merits of its strangeness. I will admit I'm not a fan of fantasy lit, and by extension a lot of urban fantasy, which runs wild here in more horrifying and perverse forms. Waggoner throws readers directly into the deep-end, right alongside Jayce, and it takes some time to get oriented to the parallel Shadow reality running alongside our own. Frankly, I struggled quite a bit to suspend my disbelief early on, but as I wised up to Waggoner's game I was better able to appreciate the story. It didn't quite satisfy me, particularly the resolution, which felt like a rush to the exit, but it didn't disappoint either. Waggoner has one hell of an imagination, and at times The Mouth of the Dark feels like an episode of Fringe if Clive Barker had gotten his hands on the screenplay. I definitely can't complain about that, and any story that features homicidal sex toys will always be worth a read as far as I'm concerned.
[Note: I received an advance reading copy of The Mouth of the Dark from the publisher, Flame Tree Press.]
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