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Halcyon by Rio Youers

Published by St. Martin's Press on July 10, 2018

Martin and Laura Lovegrove have two daughters, Shirley (15) and Edith (10). Edith used to suffer from night terrors, but a therapist helped her put that in her past. Until now, when she has a vision — a premonition — that she somehow projects to her sister, of an explosion that kills hundreds of people. Three days later, a young man who has apparently been brainwashed drives a homemade bomb into a nightclub, causing the scene that Edith saw. A woman who suffers from the same affliction, psychic signals crossing over into the realm of perception, teaches Edith to cope.

Martin is recruited to join Halcyon, which Nolan, the recruiter, defines as a better and safer America, a self-sustaining community with no crime, no poverty, no discrimination, no tech, and no clocks. Its founder, Mother Moon, is its spiritual leader, but Nolan denies that the community is a religious group, a cult, or a hippy commune (although it sounds like a combination of all those). Halcyon is on an island and, for reasons I won’t reveal, what happens in Halcyon stays in Halcyon. It’s like Hotel California: you can check out, but you can never leave. Except for Mother Moon, who apparently spends some of her time at a mysterious place called Glam Moon, which may or may not be an imaginary world.

Mother Moon is Valerie Kemp, who sold her body for drugs in Manhattan until she found the Society of Pain. The Society teaches that pain is the path to enlightenment, although its members prefer to witness the pain of others than to experience their own.

Eventually this all ties together but I cannot say that the connections are seamless. The novel feels like it was compiled from three related stories, each of which are more interesting than the story they create when assembled. That’s partly because it just takes too long for Halcyon to get where it’s going. Halcyon’s The novel’s pace too often lags. Perhaps a less ambitious story would have been tighter and more compelling.

Halcyon benefits from moments of strong writing, particularly when Edith discovers that she can’t suppress or hide from a nightmare premonition. The story has supernatural elements, or at least psychic themes and the suggestion of a hellacious afterlife, but it isn’t sufficiently frightening to be classified as a horror novel. It’s just a little too strange to be scary, unless readers are frightened by malicious roosters.

Nor is Halcyon sufficiently thrilling to be classified as a thriller, although it does feature elements of crime and mystery. The story addresses terrorism in an abstract way that divorces terrorism from its political roots, which divorces the story from the realm of terrorism-based thrillers. I’m not so anal that I need to classify every novel — some of my favorite books defy classification — but it is difficult to know just what to make of Halcyon.

Notwithstanding its faults, Halcyon introduces the reader to sympathetic characters and occasionally builds tension by placing those characters at risk. School shootings and other acts of mass violence are an early theme of Halcyon, but they are not sensationalized. The story is not pro-gun or anti-gun; it is pro-empathy for families touched by violence. While Halcyon might be predominantly a horror story, the novel recognizes that there is plenty of horror in the earthbound world, and that horror must be balanced with compassion. The story struggles to follow a consistent theme as it moves from cults to sadists to mass killings to domestic drama to interdimensional portals, but it has something worthwhile to say about how victims can become monsters. That earns Halcyon a guarded recommendation.


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