To risk starting out on an annoyingly pretentious foot, Daryl Gregory is an author I liked before he was cool. I’d been enjoying his work before he broke out into the front tables of bookstores with Spoonbenders, and I feel an affection for his writing and the interesting things he does within the horror/fantasy field. I find him to be a writer like Robert Charles Wilson, a sure-footed storyteller whose name on the cover of a genre novel guarantees an interesting and fast moving read. Revelator did not disappoint on that front. The book uses chapters alternating between the early 1930s and 1948 to tell a Southern gothic horror story about family, religion, and what we owe to both.
Revelator opens with Stella in 1933, as her father dumps her with her grandmother in the Tennessee cove valley that her family originated from. Stella’s mother is dead and her unfriendly, strict grandmother does not help with her sense of abandonment by her father. On the first day she’s there, she explores their family church and the hole beneath it, where she discovers the god that her family worships, the Ghostdaddy. Stella is the next female revelator, who communes with the Ghostdaddy and tells the male interpreter what revelations they received. In the alternating 1948-set chapters, we find Stella out of the cove, selling moonshine, and grappling with the events that led to her childhood sweetheart’s death and her purposeful exile.
The body horror of what the women in the family go through in order to commune with the Ghostdaddy is well done, as is the mystery that unravels as to why Stella left the cove and her responsibilities there. I thought that Gregory paced the reveals well, with no boring sections or over-saturation of dramatic events. As is his style, the action kept coming at an ideal tempo. I also thought that the deeper themes of the novel — generational trauma, sexism, ingrained patriarchic structures, religion and its seeming responsibilities, what we owe to family — didn’t feel too heavy handed or overbearing, which I liked. My only issue with the book was the issue that I so often have, the somewhat flat ending that feels a bit rushed or like the author couldn’t quite flesh it out satisfyingly. I understood what the ending was going to be a chapter before it happened, so it didn’t have the emotional weight or surprise he probably wanted it to. It was still a little creepy/affecting, but I felt a bit let down somehow, like he could have pushed it more to make it that much more conclusive.
But overall, I would recommend this to anyone who likes Southern gothic-aligned horror, or a genre-influenced musing on generational issues. Also, let me not forget the cover, which I probably found to be the best part of the book! Dan Hillier did a beautiful job on that illustration. A fun first book of the year to start off with!