Book Review: 14 by Peter Clines
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Permuted Press
Date of Publication: June 5, 2012
Author Information: Website
I’d like to start this review off with some background information. So for the past year, I’ve been playing a massively multiplayer online role-playing survival horror game called The Secret World. The developers’ description of it as a “dark fantasy” MMO is quite apt, due to its paranormal setting and the creepy mysteries-of-the-unexplained nature of the story and quests, heavily inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. So that’s why when a fellow gamer asked me for a book recommendation that has the same kind of vibe, my mind immediately went to Peter Clines’ 14.
At the time, I hadn’t read the book myself but I’d heard good things and knew from its description and others’ reviews that it could be thematically and atmospherically similar to what my friend was looking for. A group of tenants living in a strange apartment building where bizarre things like strange light fixtures, wonky room temperatures, and mutant green cockroaches with extra legs are an everyday occurrence? The book definitely has that creepy-paranormal feel going for me.
Anyway, little did I know, in so many ways this book turned out even more like The Secret World than I could have possibly imagined. Those familiar with the game will know that there are certain types of quests called “Investigation Missions” that require the player to find facts and solve puzzles. That’s pretty much how I saw this book. The main character Nate and his fellow neighbors gather to examine all the oddities they’ve found in their own apartments, and together they try to solve the mystery of the old Los Angeles brownstone they call home.
Overall this was a fantastic read, quite different in tone and subject compared to the author’s other books that I’ve read and very much enjoyed, mainly the Ex-Heroes series. But the things I loved, such as Clines’ light style and funny dialogue, are still all there. I’ve noticed he is excellent when it comes to writing about large ensemble casts. In the case of Ex-Heroes, it was his engaging and unique band of superheroes; in 14, it’s the diverse group of tenants living in the strange Kavach Building. Clines gives them all distinct personalities even if at times they are a little cliched, and the conversations that result are always natural, witty and entertaining.
In terms of the story, I think some might find it slow to take off, particularly at the beginning and especially if you’re expecting something more along the lines of pure horror. There are certainly horror elements in this book, but for the most part there’s nothing too frightening. Is 14 scary? No, not really; there’s nothing that would give me trouble sleeping anyway. But creepy and a bit unsettling? Definitely. This eeriness strengthens throughout the course of the novel with each new discovery of weirdness in Nate’s building, every one of them adding to the atmosphere.
Beyond that, it’s going to be hard to talk about the plot without giving too much away. I can’t say I was a big fan of the ending, but after all that build-up everything does come to a head in a big, meaningful, almost overwhelming way. That, I can guarantee.
In general, 14 is a tough book to categorize, but think a mix of science fiction and fantasy with a dash of horror, with emphasis on mystery, paranormal, and topics relating to unexplained phenomena. It’s a lot like the show Lost in this regard, but with a heavier dose of humor. A fun read all around, which held my attention from the first page to the last.