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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Review: Wild Spaces - S.L. Coney

Genre: Horror, Coming of Age

Published: Tor, August 1st 2023

My Rating: 5/5 stars

<i>“Father was wrong, he tells him. Sometimes, being related is all it takes.” </i>

As I do for any coming of age novel that includes a dog, I tried to steel myself for heartbreak. Yet Wild Spaces still managed to hit me on so many emotional levels that I was absolutely powerless to the aching sense of loneliness it left me with. Succinct, intimate and yet (dare I say it) cyclopean in scope, this debut novella combines the supernatural horror of Lovecraftian beasts, with the true monsters that live within the ones closest to us.

Wild Spaces tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy living an idyllic childhood exploring the remote coastal plains and wetlands of South Carolina alongside his parents and his dog Teach. That all changes one day when his estranged grandfather, mums dad, shows up and wrenches himself forcefully back into their lives. The longer grandpa outstays his welcome and the greater the tension between the adults grows, the more the boy realizes his granddad hides a monstrous nature beneath his human appearance. Something abyssal from the depth, that threatens to spill through the façade of normalcy and devour the family whole.

Full discretion: I have a strong soft-spot for this highly specific subgenre of coming-of-age-horror, where our child/teen protagonist uses monstrous-imagery and/or paracosm to make sense of an event that is otherwise too traumatic for a child to grasp. It’s a delicate balance to strike, portraying this in a way that is heartfelt and compassionate ánd strikes terror in the reader. Not many authors nail it on the first try, but Coney absolutely did so. Her character work is perfectly weighed too. At first I struggled with the fact that our protagonist is never called by name, and only referred to as “boy”. It created a sense of distance, that had me worried I wouldn’t be able to feel attached to him. Instead, Coney’s short but striking descriptions of every-day domestic life, perfectly establishes not only “boy”, but his family and their bonds too. In the end, his lack of a name only added to my deep sense of sadness and loneliness when the ending comes around…

Needless to repeat: I highly recommend this novella, especially to fans of Laurel Hightower, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and maybe even Strange Creatures by Phoebe North. As far as debuts go, this is close to perfection, and I cannot wait to see what this author has in store for us in the future.

Many thanks to Netgalley, Tor and Dreamscape Media for providing me with an (audio)ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


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