Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
Genre: Adult horror (marketed as adult, but perfect for teens)
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: March 24 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
The nitty-gritty: A hysterically funny Lovecraftian horror story, perfect for both teens and adults.
“What? You think I want you to go to school? Then who would entertain me? This place is stultifying. True, if there’s any news, they can tell you in school just as easily as here, but how much better to spend your time with your most beloved relative? I can teach you how to make a decent Bloody Mary.”
“You’re not a very good aunt.”
“Pardon me, but I’m fantastic. The best aunts aren’t substitute parents, they’re coconspirators.”
It’s nearly impossible to write this review without referring to another book by Daryl Gregory that I recently reviewed, We Are All Completely Fine. Harrison Squared is a prequel of sorts to WAACF, although you certainly don’t need to read one to enjoy the other, and the order that you read them in shouldn’t affect your experience either. I’ll talk more about the relationship between the two books later, but I do want to say that if I didn’t know any better, I would think these books were written by completely different authors! Gregory is a talented writer indeed, to be able to switch gears like he has in Harrison Squared.
I haven’t read H.P. Lovecraft in many years, but reading Harrison Squared brought back memories of Lovecraft’s shadowy worlds, filled with sea monsters and fish-like people. Gregory captures the tone of Lovecraft perfectly, but he adds a dimension all his own with laugh-out-loud dialog and brilliantly drawn characters. Harrison Harrison (or Harrison Squared as he calls himself) has just moved to the seaside town of Dunnsmouth with his mother Rosa, a scientist who has been awarded a grant to research the colossal squid, which she thinks lives in the icy waters of Dunnsmouth’s sea. Harrison reluctantly starts school at the local Dunnsmouth Secondary School, a dank and dark stone structure with endless winding corridors and even creepier students and teachers.
But one evening when Rosa is out on the water working on her research, the boat is capsized and Rosa disappears at sea—or does she? Harrison is determined to find out the truth and get his mother back. With the help of some very unusual friends, Harrison follows the clues and uncovers a truth even bigger and more dangerous than he can imagine. It’s not safe in Dunnsmouth, especially for Harrison and his mom.
I think the biggest surprise for me was the humor in Harrison Squared. Gregory’s dialogue is so funny, and Harrison’s voice is so engaging, that I couldn’t help but tear through the pages. Harrison has had a bit of a strange life already, so he’s somewhat familiar with things that are odd. When he was three, he was out on a boat with his parents when it was attacked by a large sea monster, which ended up drowning his father and nearly killing Harrison. (Harrison lost a leg in the incident and now wears a prosthetic.) Or was it a sea monster? Harrison’s memories of that time are fuzzy to say the least.
And wow, the characters in this book! I don’t think I’ve ever run across so many well-developed and lovable secondary characters. In fact, many of them stole the show from Harrison, which is hard to do because he’s such a great character himself. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can’t write this review without mentioning Lub the fish boy, who stole my heart from the moment he opened his mouth (full of teeth!) Despite his, err, differences, Lub becomes a great friend to Harrison and helps him in more ways than one. I also adored Harrison’s Aunt Sel, who takes over as his guardian after Rosa disappears. Aunt Sel’s arrival in Dunnsmouth is like a breath of fresh air, and believe me, the dank and fishy smells of town could certainly use someone like her! At first I thought, “Oh, poor Harrison! He’s got to put up with his aunt from the big city.” But she won me over, and she’ll win you over too.
Gregory adds many Lovecraft references and touches that a true HPL fan will have a blast spotting them all. I particularly loved the name of the town—Dunnsmouth—which I believe is an ode to Lovecraft’s famous short story, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. He also pays tribute to Moby Dick by having Rosa, like her counterpart Ahab, search for the illusive monster who killed her husband. Gregory begins each chapter with a line or two from the famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which fit perfectly with both the tone and subject matter of the story. Do you know where the expression “to wear an albatross around your neck” comes from? Well, you will after you read this book!
For me Harrison Squared at times had that magical Harry Potter feel to it, with its mysterious school and wonderfully imagined characters. I can’t find any evidence that this book is the start of a series, although a very abrupt ending (which is really the only thing I have to complain about) left me wondering if Mr. Gregory has more adventures planned for Harrison and his friends.
Which brings me back around to We Are All Completely Fine. A very important character shows up in both stories, the terrifying and deadly Scrimshander. In Harrison Squared, he’s a much more real and immediate character, but even though he’s merely referred to as someone from a character’s past in We Are All Completely Fine, he was just as terrifying. I loved both of these books, but We Are All Completely Fine is much, much darker, with a gritty violence that may turn some readers off. For those of you looking for a highly entertaining adventure with plenty of slimy creatures just waiting in the shadows and lots of mysteries to solve, then Harrison Squared is not to be missed.
Big thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
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