A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill — Book Review
‘My monster suit always fit better than my regular skin. I was never a guardian, or a hero, but a creator and harvester of fear.’
It has been quite some time since I’ve read a horror book, but as soon as I came across A Cosmology of Monsters, the cover caught my eye. The eerie house with a single glowing light, the enormous looming wolf-like creature, even the title – almost poetic and enticing, all worked to capture my attention. Let’s face it, I’m a sucker when it comes to monsters.
I honestly cannot believe this is a debut; Shaun Hamill smoothly and skilfully executes a blend of horror and dark fantasy, he spins a tale which is poignant, yet whimsical, and he captivates his audience with a haunting atmosphere.
Firstly, if we briefly look at the definition of ‘cosmology’ then we see it is the study of ‘the general structure and evolution of the universe.’ Hamill uses this concept as the basis for the narrative of A Cosmology of Monsters; he chronicles the evolution of the Turner family, a seemingly ordinary family, but under the surface one that is pursued by the foreboding presence of monsters.
Our narrator is Noah Turner, the youngest of three siblings, and where our story begins, he is not yet born. Traversing through decades, Noah looks back on his family’s history, from the moment his Lovecraftian fanatic dad, and his bookish mum fall in love, right through to his own adulthood. Using photographs, diary entries, letters, and eventually when his own memories come into play, he intimately chronicles the struggles his family faces. Financial strife, terminal illness, mental illness, sexuality, grief, loneliness – we witness the very real heartbreaking hardships many families experience even today. Yet as I have said, their life is not so ordinary. As the novel progresses it becomes apparent that the Turner family lives a life which is often delusory, and very much nightmarish. Monsters afflict them all in different ways, and Noah seems to be the one who is targeted in the most unique way. But the question remains, what is real?
There were many aspects of this book that I loved, but something that stood out to me was how well fleshed out each character was. Throughout the novel we see the Turner family deteriorate in many ways, his mother increasingly becomes distant and cold, his oldest sister, Sydney, becomes wayward, and his other sister, Eunice, struggles under the weight of her mental illness. Then there was Noah’s relationship with the monster he affectionately calls ’My Friend’. I will say very little about this relationship, but it is one that is quite uncanny yet moving. Hamill has a fantastic way of developing these broken characters, I felt my heartstrings being pulled for each of them. It is not all doom and gloom though, there are moments of happiness, moments in which any family treasures, so by the end, although there were tears, I very much appreciated the bittersweetness of it all.
‘Around town, children dropped their toys and stopped their games as the beacon entered their field of vision and announced itself, a signal from the spirit world that All Hallows’ Eve had begun. The streets would soon be awash in dark magic and the world beyond the world would show its face.’
If you’re not a big fan of gore and violence; you know those slasher type scenes which are often associated with the horror genre – then fear not, as I would say rather than outright horror this is a novel which revels in the macabre. Hamill gives tribute to classic horror elements; ones you would find in any horror movie set in the 1980’s – which is clearly deliberate as a large proportion of the book is set within that era. For example, there is a deep obsession with haunted house attractions, a monster with yellow eyes scratches upon a window, a sense of being watched, a house suddenly plunged into darkness, an unexplained open window. Silence. Scratching. Thumps. Deep growls. Hamill balances these surreal scenes with real-life horror well and builds tension, a sense of dread.
Lastly, going back to the definition of ‘cosmology’, Hamill also explores the origins and evolution of the horror genre itself. There are clear nods to the classic horror author H. P. Lovecraft’s work, which I actually haven’t read but I’m told each chapter heading is a title of a story by Lovecraft. I found there were influences of Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Hamill’s characters are similar to ones you could find in any Stephen King novel. Then in the second half, there is a clear Stranger Things vibe, with a malevolent presence hanging over a close-knit town. I love that Hamill celebrates writers and creators who are prolific in this genre.
It may sound like a lot, but in my opinion, it makes A Cosmology of Monsters rich and delightful to read. Shaun Hamill has certainly made an exciting entrance into the horror and dark fantasy scene, and I look forward to future books by him.
‘We can’t make new happiness past a certain point, but we can linger in past joy forever, perfectly captured with the rememberer’s eye.’
ARC provided by Titan Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the copy. A Cosmology of Monsters is out today and can order your copy here!