Book review: Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CATRIONA WARD was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She studied English at the University of Oxford and later earned her master’s degree in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Ward is a three-time winner of the August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel: for The Girl from Rawblood, her debut; Little Eve; and The Last House on Needless Street. Little Eve also won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel. Ward is the international bestselling author of The Last House on Needless Street and Sundial.

Publisher: Tor Nightfire (August 8, 2023) Page count: 352 pages Formats: Audiobook, ebook, paperback

Well, damn. My head hurts. As expected – making readers feel this way is Catriona Ward’s specialty. I’m not sure how much to reveal about the story without giving too much away, so I’ll keep it brief.

The book opens with the coming-of-age story of Wilder Harlow told through his unpublished memoir. True to Ward’s style, things get weirder and darker quickly. Initially, the story follows a mostly linear structure. You may even start to think you know where it’s going, but nothing could be further from the truth. Soon, the narrative layers stories on top of stories and gets META (yes, in capital letters).

It’s almost a few books in one, and the ending makes you question what was real and what wasn’t. It may also bully you into rereading certain parts of the book to understand how and when the author tricked you.

I loved the dark atmosphere and the more literary ambitions of the story (structurally speaking). Wilder’s first arc immersed me instantly, and the second made me feel for the poor guy. The rest, well, it made my head hurt 🙂 Let’s just say that in Looking Glass Sound the line between reality and fiction blurs and narrative surprises abound. The metafictional layer mentioned earlier? It’s more than just one layer. Go ahead, check it for yourself.

Despite intentionally keeping readers in the dark, Ward eases the confusion with clever writing and excellent character work. It’s a puzzle, and all the elements eventually click into place (though it might take until the final pages for them to make sense). It’s clear the plot, structure, and the ending were meticulously planned. It results in focused storytelling without unnecessary details.

Looking Glass Sound relies on psychological aspects of horror and dread rather than gratuitous gore and violence. The slow reveals, layers of metafiction, and intentional mind-fuckery may irk some readers, but they offer a refreshing departure from clichéd ideas. In my opinion? It’s a superb book with a brilliant ending.

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