Once in awhile there are novels that we read not knowing what exactly it is that we are picking up. Many times this can lead to a lot of eye-rolling, groaning, and eventually giving up on the story entirely. But there are also those very few and far between stories, the ones that we read on a whim, or a recommendation, or based solely on the author’s name that wind up taking us by surprise. Like a right hook to the chin, these stories dazzle readers and remind them why it is they read the genre they chose interest in in the first place. So was the case with Douglas Clegg’s (“NAOMI”, “THE MACHINERY OF NIGHT”) newest novel “NEVERLAND” that was released yesterday. A novel that I went into based solely on my enjoyment of the author’s previous works…Read on for the full review.
“NEVERLAND” tells the story of the Jackson tribe who once a year vacation to Rowena Wandigaux Lee s old Victorian house on Gull Island. For young Beau the spot is a place where superstitions and mystery stir in the kettle of his imagination, and when his cousin Sumter shows him the old shack out in the woods it seems like a natural thing to turn the place into the children’s clubhouse. But then things take a turn for the macabre. Little do the children know that their clubhouse holds the key to an age old mystery, and for years has been forbidden to anyone who wants to enter. Soon the children begin to view the place as a safe haven away from the fighting and tension back home…but “NEVERLAND” is anything but safe . As time goes on the children begin to worship a shadowy specter that they dub “Lucy”. Lucy is a God of sorts, and in saying that sacrifices must be made. It is all fun and games until something, or someone, dies.
In a neat little paragraph that is what we have for horror author Douglas Clegg’s newest novel, “NEVERLAND” . I’ve heard many compare Clegg’s latest offering to “CHILDREN OF THE CORN” for its depiction of childhood freedom gone horribly awry and the dangers of worshiping false Gods, but I’d say that to compare this to anything would be doing it a hefty disservice. For while reading “NEVERLAND” there were indeed quite a few things that came to mind but they were not of the published sort. Instead I found myself looking back into my own childhood, thinking about the way I thought about things back then before I knew any better, and it scared the crap out of me. What Clegg does so well with this novel is he throws readers back into a time when they were Beau s age, puts them back into that childlike mindset, and twists their gears in a direction they were never meant to go in.
On this level “NEVERLAND” is its own sort of shade of classic. Much of what is presented here feels very timeless (that it has been compared to the classic “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” is fair in this sense) and the novel does serve the chills up very heartily. Pacing wise Clegg has turned in his best work. The novel plays out very slow, very eerie at time, but then when the thrills come they hit you like an out of control Toyota. (Sorry Prius owners) The author does an excellent job of starting the novel off in a way that grabs the reader s attention and then he eases up on the gas just enough to keep you entertained. (Think of “NEVERLAND” as a fast car ride, but the whole time the driver is break-checking) The characters are all colorfully written, and the relationships between them all believable. Particularly of note here is Beau’s relationships with the adults, which are at times very strenuous to say the least.
The addition of Stephen King illustrator Glenn Chadbourne is a very nice touch as well. The artist has a very distinct style to his illustrations that lend perfectly to the story. Many of these pictures are unnerving enough to really drive home some of the key moments in the book, and it is easy to see why Clegg decided to bring him on for the job.
When all is done and read, “NEVERLAND” is likely to be as chilling a novel as you’ll read all year. It is slow, methodical, eerie, and most of all terrifying. There is something about the story that stays with you even after you’ve put it down, and the finished product feels almost as if it could be timeless. Much like Joe Hill’s “HORNS” before it, “NEVERLAND” will go down as one of the finest pieces of terror lit this year. It dares to take us back top a time when we were most vulnerable (and impressionable) and in doing so it shows us a horror within ourselves that is downright fascinating.
4.5 Out Of 5 Skulls