He stepped into the foyer of the house once again, and shut the door behind him. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimness, as if the house was hiding its secrets from him, only giving them up reluctantly. He pulled his coat around himself, glad he was wearing it. First order of business was to find a thermostat, although the grey stone walls didn’t look like they would hold heat well. He took a few steps forward, the fabric of the rug swallowing his footsteps. The foyer was two stories high, the only windows high above the doorway. Craning his neck, Cohen could just see the wooden rafters above. The light came from an old electric chandelier, dull, painted gold glinting amongst cobwebs.
Cohen used to be Ireland’s favourite daughter, a celebrated teenage fantasy novelist. Now, Cohen has transitioned and moved to a small town where he inherited an old house. His intention was to take some time for himself, away from prying eyes, to work on his next novel in peace. But when he arrives he meets Niall, a kind, but strange, young man who Cohen is almost immediately attracted to. But Niall has secrets and being a suspect in a murder investigation is only the start of them.
“What is all this stuff?” he asked, turning in circles and staring at the rows and rows of strings hanging from the ceiling and walls. They were draped over openings and doorways, lined under windows, even along the floor on either side of the hallway, and from all of them hung all manner of strange things. Dried plants mostly and roots and beads and unlit candles. The smell of them at the same time musky and delicious, and Cohen almost felt light-headed.
“Well,” said Niall, once again looking a little sheepish as he locked the door and tied a string of beads across the entrance. “I’m sort of a witch.”
“You’re sort of a witch?” repeated Cohen, gawking at Niall. He didn’t know whether to be impressed or terrified or strangely turned on. “I’m Jewish, you know.”
Niall bit his lip, looking just a little bit wicked.
“Are you going to stone me?”
“No, we don’t do that anymore,” said Cohen.
I enjoyed this novella far more than I expected to. Unlike other novellas I’ve read this one felt exactly the right length for the story. Characters were fleshed out with a remarkable level of detail and, though I’d have liked a little less “will we, won’t we” soul searching in Cohen’s attraction to Niall, both characters were enjoyable to read and their romance genuine. I’ve never read a trans* novel like this before. Cohen struggles with his dysphoria throughout but he’s also an unintentional role model for other trans* characters. He’s a hero, he’s the character who inspires Niall to do the right thing, and he performs this role despite having his own deep, personal fears and challenges. A word of warning: there is self-harm in this novel, though it is only a brief scene. There was possibly a little part of me that scoffed at some of the more out there elements of the plot, but it’s a plot featuring magic and demons, so you know, it’s probably best to just roll with it. I’m interested to see what else Pendragon writes in the future, their confidence rang through loud and clear with this one and I’m sure future work will be the same.
To Summon Nightmares, J.K. Pendragon: four stars.
Read it for: probably some of the greatest diversity in a fantasy novella you’re likely to find.
I was supplied with a free Kindle version by the publisher via NetGalley.