Audiobook Review: Revelator by Daryl Gregory
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Random House Audio (August 31, 2021)
Length: 11 hrs and 35 mins
Narrator: Reagan Boggs
This isn’t my first rodeo with Daryl Gregory’s horror fiction, but I feel Revelator may be his darkest one yet. In this novel which might be best described as Appalachian Gothic, he takes us to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, where protagonist Stella Wallace was left in the care of her grandmother Motty when she was just nine years old. The story then begins to unfold via two timelines in alternating fashion, one chronicling Stella’s childhood growing up in the remote Tennessean backwoods of the early 1930s, the other following her more than a decade later after she had moved out of Motty’s house and became a moonshine bootlegger of some renown.
Gradually, we find out that in the years between, Stella had been groomed to take on a very particular role in a religious ritual practiced by the members of her family since the Civil War. In every generation, a Revelator, always a girl, is chosen for her ability to commune with their mysterious God in the Mountain who dwelled in a nearby cave. At age nine, Stella entered the darkness and had her first encounter with this being, whom she called “Ghostdaddy.” However, after she discovers the god’s true nature and learns of how all the previous Revelators, her own mother included, had died, Stella made the decision to run away and never look back.
But now in 1948, news arrives that Motty had been found dead in her home, and although Stella had never wanted to see her grandmother’s old place again, she knows the right thing to do would be to return. At the funeral, she meets ten-year-old Sunny, whom Motty had adopted to become the new Revelator after Stella had left. Recognizing something of herself in the young girl, as well as the way Sunny is being used and endangered by Motty’s brother Hendrick, Stella decides something must be done to stop the cycle of destruction.
Time and time again, Daryl Gregory has shown himself to be one of the sci-fi and fantasy genre’s most creative and imaginative writers. The way he blends elements in Revelator reminds me of a mad scientist. Frightening? Yep. But also genius. At its heart, this story is a mix of historical fiction and paranormal, though there is a good strong dose of horror and suspense as well. The pacing is superb, considering the alternating timelines and how that arrangement could have turned ugly quick, but chapter by chapter, Gregory maintains a tight rein on how he wants his information revealed, resulting in an intriguing plotline that keeps you reading and guessing. The truth behind Ghostdaddy is probably the best example of this, along with the question of who Sunny is and how she plays into the overall mystery.
As well, Gregory is a wizard when it comes to writing characters—and not just individually, but as a group of people or even a whole community. Dysfunctional families seem to be one of his pet subjects, and Stella et al. could certainly be considered as such. This is also a story about how the past will always pull you back, no matter how hard you try to escape its clutches. Stella realizes that her family is a part of her whether she likes it or not and that their secrets will likely haunt her forever, though if there’s any way she can spare Sunny the same fate, our headstrong protagonist will do whatever it takes.
The novel’s Gothic description is also quite apt, given the delectably dark and moody undertones of the setting. Revelator is really more eerie and disconcerting than outright scary, but that’s exactly the kind of vibe you want in a book like this. Bolstered by the wilderness environment and folkloric elements, I would say the atmosphere is absolutely one of its greatest strengths. The story itself as I’ve mentioned is also quite dark, but in way that I can’t say I’ve experienced from the author before, even though this is the fifth book I’ve read by him, so this was definitely a unique read. Something about the setting just gives this tale a strange sense of foreboding and wrongness which helps stir the imagination and heighten the tensions.
In sum, fans of Daryl Gregory will want to check out Revelator, or maybe readers of SFF who prefer their stories a little eerie, a little odd.