Much like its predecessor, 2022 has been quite a year. I signed up for a Quarter Cannonball, did the reading, then life intervened. I didn’t write any reviews, which I understand is against the rules. Now, with half the year gone, I finally have the time to commit some reviews to pixels. I hope you find worth in both my reviews and in the books I’ve read this year.
The cosmic horror novel A Song for the Void by Andrew C. Piazza is set in 1853 aboard a British warship in the South China Sea during the Opium Wars. Piazza fills his work with rich descriptions that put the tang of the ocean in your nose and the pitch of the deck in your gait, as you read the reminiscences of Doctor Pearce and his recent misadventures on the HMS Charger. As a man of learning, his narrative is detailed and collected, even as the events of a cosmic horror creature, The Darkstar, unravel the carefully regimented world of the Royal Navy ship and all souls aboard. The good doctor’s relationship with the crew, with an unexpected prisoner, and with his own past and addictions builds slowly, bringing that era and the sailors’ circumstances to life for the patient reader.
The book is an exploration of identity and, ultimately, humans’ place in the universe, set in a historical background that I am now convinced doesn’t get nearly enough attention in books. The doctor and the crew of the Charger are patrolling the waters looking for opium smugglers and pirates when they encounter a fearsome cosmic creature that twists their minds and realities to suit its own purposes. The historical horror of colonialism also rears its ugly head, with its effects rippling throughout the narrative.
I particularly appreciated the attention to historical details in the book, which gave the narrative a certain depth but didn’t distract from the story and the action. Doctor Pearce is not the most sympathetic main character, but I found his philosophical musings interesting and his moral quandaries fascinating. The story itself is both introspective for the Doctor and an action story. It is horror, of both the gory and psychological kinds, which I found to be a very good balance.
If, like me, you enjoy a slower-paced cosmic horror story that picks up the speed for some wild action scenes, this is definitely a good novel for you. Clocking in at a fairly robust 330 pages, it contains a few nights’ worth of quality cosmic horror reading. I would add a content warning that there are a few children involved in the horror, as the historical Royal Navy was not picky about taking youngsters to sea. One character on the ship, Jack Pearham, is only 13, and he is exposed to all manner of horror in the story (as are two other young characters). If that is a deal-breaker for you, you may want to pass on this one, but if you can work with that, you may enjoy A Song for the Void as much as I did.