Laird Barron's The Croning will be published by Night Shade Books in May 2012.
Laird Barron is the author of two short story collections (The Imago Sequence and Occultation). His stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies. The Croning is his debut novel.
Here's a description of The Croning:
Strange things exist on the periphery of our existence, haunting us from the darkness looming beyond our firelight. Black magic, weird cults and worse things loom in the shadows. The Children of Old Leech have been with us from time immemorial. And they love us...
Donald Miller, geologist and academic, has walked along the edge of a chasm for most of his nearly eighty years, leading a charmed life between endearing absent-mindedness and sanity-shattering realization. Now, all things must converge. Donald will discover the dark secrets along the edges, unearthing savage truths about his wife Michelle, their adult twins, and all he knows and trusts. For Donald is about to stumble on the secret...
...of The Croning.
From Laird Barron, Shirley Jackson Award-winning author of The Imago Sequence and Occultation, comes The Croning, a debut novel of cosmic horror.
A REVIEW OF LAIRD BARRON'S THE CRONING
Before I write anything else, I'll mention that this review is based on a PDF ARC of The Croning.
Laird Barron's debut novel, The Croning, is an astonishingly good and original horror novel. It's an impressive debut novel, which was worth the wait, because it's written in beautiful English and the story is suspenseful. I was very impressed by the way the author has managed to blend modern storytelling and Lovecraftian cosmic horror, because this combination feels fresh. (I have to confess that when this book is published, I'll definitely buy it in hardcover format. It's been a long time since I've been this excited about a forthcoming horror novel.)
As several readers probably know, Laird Barron has written many stories, which are among the best the horror genre has to offer. He combines dark fantasy, horror and even science fiction elements in his stories and seduces his readers with beautiful and descriptive writing. Because Laird Barron's stories are excellent, it's possible that readers may wonder if he's capable of writing novels. I can say to these readers that they have nothing to fear, because he can write novels and he does it well. The Croning proves that he can write longer stories and keep all the threads in his hands (this novel also proves that it's still possible to write original weird fiction). This novel is just as good as any of his stories.
Laird Barron has chosen to write a cocmic horror novel, which contains in equal parts family life, threatening moments, occultism and Lovecraftian horror. From these ingredients he spins an exciting and captivating tale, which keeps the reader glued to the book.
The story starts with a bang and then slows down, because the author writes about the characters and their lives in order to establish a fertile ground for forthcoming events, which lead to a satisfying and shocking conclusion. It's good that the author spends time to develop things, because every little detail is connected to each other in this novel. The narration alternates fluently between past and present events. The story develops gradually and becomes more and more interesting and unsettling as the events begin to unfold and horrifying secrets are revealed to the reader. Near the end, the story takes a deep and unforgettable plunge into the depths of cosmic horror and dark fantasy.
The Croning starts with historical events which - according to the story - were an inspiration to a well known fairytale about the Miller’s daughter and the Dwarf who helped her spin straw into gold (as most readers probably know, this fairytale is known as Rumpelstiltskin). These events are much more shocking than the reader can imagine and they work as a great introduction to the rest of the story, because there's a connection between the fairytale and the story.
Laird Barron's version of Rumpelstiltskin is a story about a Spy who tries to find the Dwarf and learn his true name. The Spy finds a remote castle and witnesses unholy and disturbing acts, which make him flee from the castle as fast as possible. Witnessing these acts will be his demise... This dark story continues at the end of the book and ends in an interesting way.
The Croning is a story about Donald Miller and his wife, Michelle. They have two children, Kurt and Holly, who are twins. Donald and Michelle have successful academic careers and they live in Waddell Valley in Washington State. The house they live in belonged to Michelle's family (the Mock Family). They seem to have a happy and almost perfect marriage, but the reader will soon notice that things aren't as simple as that, because there are horrible secrets which Donald knows nothing about.
The story is told from Donald's point of view. He is an old man, who begins to question his sanity, because certain things disturb him. Every once in a while he notices strange things happening around the house, but doesn't really care about them at first. However, things change and he becomes more interested in the strange phenomenons.
Laird Barron reveals interesting things about Donald's life (his youth, his career and his marriage). These revelations help the reader to understand Donald's personality and how he became who he is. For example, the reader will get to know that Donald walks in the woods with his labrador retriever (Thule) and loves his wife. Although Donald loves his wife, he's a bit afraid of her and as the reader will find out he has every reason to be afraid of her. Donald also suffers from memory losses, which cause him anxiety and make his life a bit difficult, because he doesn't remember parts of his life and what has happened to him. He is also afraid of the dark and avoids being in the dark for a long time. All these things are important and the reader will notice that they're tied to his fate - Donald's character development is impeccable and it fits the story perfectly.
When Donald begins to investigate things, he finds out several disturbing things about his wife's life and her family. The secrets of the Mock family are more than a bit strange (for example, the males of the Mock family die young). He also learns that the family's roots lie in ancient Europe and the family isn't a religious family.
Michelle is a bit mysterious person, who has a brilliant academic career in anthropology. She is a respected person, who spends a lot of time traveling around the world. She has her own secrets and as Donald finds out, they're amazingly big secrets. I think it's great that the author doesn't reveal too much about Michelle at first, but drops hints about her life and her strange family throughout the story.
The other characters are minor characters, which bring depth to the story. The author writes believably about the relationships between the different characters and what they mean to Donald. One of the most important minor characters is Argyle Arden, who is a friend of the family.
Laird Barron writes beautifully and descriptively about the happenings and the characters. It's truly impressive how easily the author writes about Donald and Michelle's marriage and their family. He also writes fluently and captivatingly about the events which lead Donald to question his sanity and memory.
The Washington State area provides a nice setting for the story, because there are lots of forests. It's easy for the reader to imagine that horrible things could hide in those lush forests. (Readers, who have read Laird Barron's stories, have probably noticed that he's fond of the northwestern area of the USA. I've read that these stories are generally called "Pacific Northwest Mythos", which is an accurate term for them.)
The Croning contains several fantastic scenes. One of my favourite scenes is Donald and Kurt's camping trip at the end of the book, because during the trip they both learn things about their family and the forest behind their family house. I also liked the chapters which told what happened to Donald in 1958 and later in life. It was also interesting to read about ritual of The Croning and things involving it. This dark and unholy ritual is one of the most disturbing rituals I've read about during the last couple of years.
Laird Barron has invented a cult of the Old Leech, which is a fascinating cult, because the worshipers follow old ways and are true to their masters. The truth about the Children of Old Leech is an unsettling and unforgettable reading experience - what Donald learns of the cult of the Old Leech is truly terrifying. The dark rites and revelations about the Great Dark are simply amazing and fans of weird fiction will be delighted to read about them.
It's easy to see that Laird Barron has spent a lot of time on honing and perfecting every possible detail of the cult of Old Leech and its ways. When you read about the Children of Old Leech and where they come from, you'll notice that the author has not only managed to create a new mythological concept but also managed to bring something new to the horror genre.
In the end the author reveals an interesting and frightening vision about the possible future of humankind. This vision is unforgettable because of its breathtakingly perverse evilness. I won't write more about this subject, but I'll mention that fans of cosmic horror will be more than delighted to read about it.
Although The Croning is a wonderfully entertaining horror novel, it's also a surprisingly complex novel. The complexity of this novel comes from the way the author writes about the events (past and present events) and Donald's life, and also from the way the author gradually peels layers away to reveal horrible truths about the cult, its worshipers and the Children of Old Leech. I like this kind of intriguing storytelling, because the author doesn't underestimate the intelligence of his readers, but assumes that they're capable of following the story from start to finish.
Laird Barron knows how to use psychological horror to his advantage. His descriptions of Donald's fear of the dark and the weird references to Michelle's family are good examples of how he creates an atmospheric horror story. Donald's fears provide an excellent basis for psychological horror and the author writes delicately about them. He subtly adds tension and creeping suspense without underlining things for the reader.
The Croning is a good example of complex, intelligent and superbly written horror fiction, which offers lots of entertainment to fans of quality horror and readers who like to immerse themselves into a good story. Laird Barron combines perfectly weird fiction, psychological horror and good old-fashioned horror fiction in this novel (this novel is simultaneously modern and old-fashioned).
Before I write the final words of this review I'll mention that it's difficult for me to find any faults in The Croning, because I loved every page of it.
By the way, if you want to read a sample of Laird Barron's writing skills, you can read a short cut from The Croning in his blog.
I've been a fan of H. P. Lovecraft's stories and Lovecraftian stories for a long time, because they're imaginative and genuinely disturbing stories about cosmic forces and unmentionable beings that threaten to engulf humankind. As a fan of this genre I can say that The Croning won't disappoint fans of Lovecraftian cosmic horror. This novel is an amazing achievement, because it manages to be original and modern while still being true to its roots, which lie in Lovecraftian cosmic horror. The Croning is pure pleasure for readers who enjoy reading weird fiction and quality horror.
If you're a fan of weird fiction or if you simply love good horror novels, you must read The Croning. It's one of the best new horror novels and you'll be sorry if you don't read it. I think it's fair to say that The Croning is without a doubt the best horror novel of 2012, because it's difficult to imagine how any another horror novel could top this one. This novel is such an amazing accomplishment in several different ways that other horror novels simply can't compete with it. It's literal horror at its best.
(PS. If you enjoy reading horror fiction and you've never heard of Laird Barron, please do yourself a favour and buy his books. You'll love them!)