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Book: “The Insane God” by Jay Hartlove
Publishing Info: Water Dragon Publishing, May 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the author’s publicist.
Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon | Indiebound
Book Description: Nightmare on Elm Street meets The Stand. A meteorite fragment cures a teenaged trans girl’s schizophrenia but leaves her with visions of ancient warring gods annihilating each other in space. As the Earth hurtles toward the cloud that is the shattered bodies of those eternal enemies, their eons-old conflict is rekindled on Earth to divide and destroy humanity. Can she and her brother stop the spread of global disaster?
Review: Thank you to Beverly Bambury for sending me a print copy of this book!
I mean, honestly, you are just tantalizing me when you say that something is “Nightmare on Elm Street” meets “The Stand”. Given that “The Stand” is an all time favorite of mine and I just love a good slasher movie, when I saw that comparison mix for “The Insane God” by Jay Hartlove, I just HAD to see what that meant. I knew I was throwing a bit of caution to the wind, as it was pretty clear that this story, while having those comparisons, was going to be a bit heavier on the Science Fiction than I am used to. But I’m game to experiment when the mood strikes me, and strike me it did.
There are some interesting ideas here to be sure! I loved the idea of space rocks giving people powers and interfering with biological functions like mental illness, and I liked the idea of how people that are touched by these things can have new powers awakened within them. Hartlove has set the stage for some well done suspense and some pretty solid consequences, with cosmic horror elements as well as some trippy surreal horror, like the ability to manipulate and bring things from dreams into the real world (THAT was so “Nightmare on Elm Street”). We also have some good old fashioned suspense regarding people who are raging bigoted assholes, and people who are true believers in one side of a space set feud and who want to bring about destruction on Earth. This leads to a lot of content warnings (specifically some pretty upsetting scenes of transphobia, Islamaphobia, violence due to both these things, and difficult moments involving mental illness and the stigma that can come with it). But we also get a coming of age story in which a teenage girl finds herself a potential savior of mankind, all while grappling with her own identity as a trans woman, a recently cured schizophrenic (due to otherworldly influence), and as a sister. Hartlove melds them all together into a fast paced narrative that has a lot of ideas, and it mostly comes together pretty well!
There is also the fact that our protagonist Sarah is a trans woman, a representation that we are finally seeing more and more of in genre fiction and horror. It’s important to note that Jay Hartlove is not trans, and that as a cis woman I can’t really tell you if Sarah is a good representation of a trans character. That said, I did look into Hartlove’s background and various interviews, and he does have a trans child and a non-binary child, and it’s pretty clear that he has written this story with a hope of giving trans people characters they can seen themselves in. Sometimes it comes off a little clunky and hamfisted, at least to me, and again, I’m not really someone who can judge how well representative Sarah was and whether her experiences ring true or false. But it really does seem like Sarah’s characterization has all the best intentions, and as a character I thought that she was complex and interesting, and was very easy to root for. At the end of the day I liked her a lot. And I hope that we get more trans characters in genre fiction, and more trans authors in the mix to tell those stories.
I think that ultimately this was more heavily Science Fiction in a cosmic sense, which I knew going into it. I always like to give genres that I’m not super into a try, especially if it seems like there could be some crossover interest, and as I mentioned above, describing it as “Nightmare on Elm Street” meets “The Stand” would imply a lot of crossover! And I do get the comparisons, given the creative ways that Hartlove toys with dreaming and cosmic and existential end of world elements with warring factions within the chaos. Still and all, it did get into the Sci-Fi weeds a bit, which will probably work for a lot of people!
“The Insane God” is a bit of an out there Sci-Fi/horror story that I thought was pretty creative. Sure it has some stumbles here and there, but there is so much that feels unique, and it has its heart firmly in place.
Rating 7: Super creative and outside of the box, though maybe a little too heavy on the Sci-Fi for this reader.
“The Insane God” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but I think it would fit in on “Cosmic & Lovecraftian Horror”.