Tag Archives: cosmic horror

Review of Klein’s The Ceremonies (spoiler-free)

2016-12-26-20-59-41-klein-the-ceremonies-coverSeveral years ago, I was looking for highly-regarded recent cosmic horror novels. I asked online and somebody recommended T. E. D. Klein’s novel The Ceremonies. I finally started reading it a few months ago, somewhat distracted by other books and priorities, but made my way through it slowly and finally finished in a few days ago.

One way of looking at The Ceremonies is as a 500-page callout to others in the know. The primary viewpoint character is a young, unaccomplished assistant professor of gothic literature, Jeremy Freire. Jeremy regularly discusses the various horror novels that he is reading to prepare a syllabus for a class he is planning to teach. This device allows Klein to drop literal references to the existing corpus of cosmic horror and its genre predecessors. Some key works within this literature even serve as diegetic plot elements, such as a short story by Arthur Machen. Because of this, The Ceremonies itself works as a syllabus of cosmic horror or strange tales.

Readers who enjoy this tradition of cosmic horror will recognize many formulaic elements. That may sound like a criticism, but the formulas are used skillfully and the writing act itself (on Klein’s part) almost seems ritualistic to me. Even the mostly-wooden characters are in keeping with Lovecraft. While I never really sympathized with any of them, they worked as archetypes with just enough individuation to keep my interest. Daniel Day Lewis would make a good Sarr, a farmer who is one of the main supporting characters.

The plot is slow and meandering. It is skillfully crafted enough that the events generally did not feel contrived to me in the moment, but when viewed from a high level the story does rely on several somewhat unsatisfying coincidences. The plot exists primarily to support a mood, however, and the mood is effective. At its best, The Ceremonies has some of the best horror writing I have come across, especially the way that Klein is not afraid to use classic elements where they serve his purposes, which I appreciate.

The parts of the story I enjoyed most were the evocations of mysticism and the carefully detailed monstrous elements. Klein never falls into the trap of Lovecraft-inspired cliches, there are no tentacles to be seen, and his horrors never seem taxonomic. Due to the almost inbred nature of the allusions and references, readers who are not members of the Lovecraft fanclub subculture may find the length trying. That said, my overall reaction is favorable.

The Ceremonies is Klein’s only novel, though he also has a collection of novellas (Dark Gods) that I am now interested in reading at some point. Supposedly, he has been working on another novel called Nighttown for 30 years and it may actually be published soon.

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All

Image from

Image from Barron’s site

Laird Barron is one of the few post-Lovecraft horror writers that I enjoy. The others, off the top of my head, being Thomas Ligotti and (some) Stephen King, though I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about this genre as I probably ought to be. (If you haven’t read Nethescurial, it is available online for free legitimately, and is a good place to start with Ligotti.)

That is a prelude to noting that the Kindle version of Barron’s recent release, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, is on sale at Amazon until October 31st for $2. That’s a pretty good deal given that otherwise it is priced as a standard mainstream fiction release (around $20 for the hardcover from Amazon).

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All┬áis a collection of short stories. These are not overly clever stories with twists that try to surprise you, but rather solid, almost straight forward tales that seem to move forward toward inexorable doom, which is exactly how I like my horror stories. I’ve only read the first two stories so far, so I can’t vouch for the entire contents, but I enjoyed both of them.

Somewhat related, are there any other writers in this vein that I should be aware of?

* Perhaps Clive Barker deserves a seat at this table, but I haven’t read anything by him in more than 15 years, and so I don’t know if the actual texts live up to my memory of them.