Review: “A Song for Quiet,” Cassandra Khaw

Pros: The language is so evocative!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Really good Lovecraftian horror is hard to write. After reading Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone, I had to read more, and the follow-on was Khaw’s novella A Song for Quiet (Persons Non Grata Book 2). While it once again deals with inhuman P.I. John Persons, he isn’t the main point-of-view character. That falls to Deacon James, a saxophone player who finds a strange music haunting his mind. When Persons saves Deacon from being attacked for his race, Deacon sees the truth of what Persons is and runs from him. But if Deacon is to survive, Persons needs to gain his cooperation, and quickly. The fate of the entire world could be at stake.

Khaw’s writing is remarkably evocative. She’s one of those rare authors who can use language to mirror the content of her stories in their structure and form. Much of this tale revolves around music, for example. I’d normally expect to miss most of what’s going on in that case, because I’m musically ignorant. Instead, I really felt like I could follow along anyway, because the feel of the writing communicated what was happening. At one point early on Khaw communicates beautifully just what it feels like to give in to an addiction, how easy it is to justify letting go.

In my experience, truly excellent Lovecraftian horror has to ride a line between two sides. On one side, the language ends up sounding too ordinary for the extraordinary material that the writer is attempting to present. On the other side, the writer tries so hard to use extraordinary language that it ends up meaning nothing–it’s all form and no substance. Khaw manages to ride that magical line where her language evokes the mind-twisting horror without ending up full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

And just for a minute, reality unlatches, long enough and far enough that Deacon can look through it and bear witness to the stranger’s lurking truth: a teeming life curled inside the arteries of the man, wearing his skin like a suit. Not as much a thing as it is the glimmering idea of a thing, worming hooks through the supine brain.

I absolutely love these books. I’m riveted to the page, eager to find out what happens next and fascinated by the characters. I hope Khaw continues to write more Persons Non Grata books!

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