This is a dark fantasy novella published by Apex Publications. It currently has 3 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List. Normally I start at the top of the list, but it happens I’ve already read this one.

In 1893 Sister Grace takes a 15-year-old orphan boy named Jackson to a place called Macquarie’s in Chicago, where he is adopted by a woman named Cressida. Jackson isn’t a normal boy. When he’s upset, scales and tentacles appear that he struggles to suppress. Cressida assures him that he’s safe at Macquarie’s and doesn’t have to hide what he is any longer. Macquarie’s is a dark place, where the bronze lions at the door come alive and the rooms mysteriously rearrange. Jackson discovers there are rents in reality, and a kracken rises from the sea below the house to devour things. He becomes involved with a freak show, meets a lion-tamer named Mae, and tries to deal with various alliances in the transition to adulthood.

On the pro side, I really loved the atmospheric style of this one. It has a dark, stream of consciousness flow that carries the reader through the various occurrences and shifts in reality. It’s well-written, with strong characters and good imagery. On the con side, nothing much happens. There are a lot of threats and some of the characters meet horrific ends, but it’s hard to make out any kind of plot. I gather the freak show is significant and the themes are “coming-of-age” and “dealing with the monster within,” but it’s all a bit too murky and symbolic to produce a meaningful story.

Best read if you enjoy Tobler’s writing style. Two and a half stars.

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