Gabino Iglesias reviews The Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy – Locus Online – Low Calorie Diets Tips

The Unknown GardenBenjamin Percy (Mariner Books 978-0-35833-271-8, $26.00, 224 pages, hc) January 2022. Binding by Chrissy Kurpeski.

Benjamin Percy can apparently do everything. From novels to comics to television, Percy seems to be everywhere, but as a reader, I selfishly wish he’d just sit at his desk (or wherever he writes) and put out a novel about every three months. Yes, The Unknown Garden Is it good; a perfect blend of crime fiction with a serial killer at its core, a story about a broken couple haunted by the loss of their daughter, and a wild sci-fi tale about a mushroom that could take over the world.

When the sky fell, the world changed forever. An unprecedented meteor shower changed the way people lived, and in the aftermath – marked by strange events and a changed climate everywhere – Jack and Nora Abernathy suffered an even greater change: the devastating loss of their young daughter Mia, who disappeared into the woods during she was traveling with her father, a scientist. The disappearance was the final blow to Jack and Nora’s already fragile marriage. They had always been different, and Mia helped make it work, but in her absence, small differences ballooned into annoying, unforgivable insults. For Nora, a homicide detective, it was devastating not being able to solve her own daughter’s disappearance. For Jack, depression and guilt interfered with his work as a biology professor and made him stop caring about his performance. After the divorce, they moved on with their lives and rarely spoke to each other. However, her life changed again five years later when it started raining again in Seattle. First, Jack discovered a new parasitic fungus and went back to pursuing his academic career. Meanwhile, Nora began investigating several ritual killings that appear to have been linked to a serial killer who terrorized the area years ago. Little do they know that their research will put them in danger and bring them together; Something is happening with a new deadly fungus and the government is involved, and not in a good way. The connection between their discoveries will eventually lead them to battle a possible pandemic, delve into the history of the serial killer and reflect on the new murders, and bring them closer to the truth about their daughter’s disappearance.

There’s a lot to like The Unknown Garden. The first element that deserves a moment in the spotlight, however, is Percy’s talent for balancing intertwined narratives. For more than half of the story, Jack’s and Nora’s individual storylines exist in the same world, but inhabit very different spaces, making them truly unique stories that follow two different paths – both equally entertaining – until they merge. And then there’s a third story that’s more or less responsible for bringing them together: that of the mushroom itself, the scientist who becomes one with it, and the government, whose interest in the mushroom’s potential is, as ever, nefarious.

The second element about this novel that deserves attention is the seamless way in which Percy blends elements of crime, horror, and science fiction. Nora’s investigations, ritualistic killings, and research into possible connections to serial killers place this book comfortably in the mystery/thriller arena. However, this is just one of three genres at play here. The meteor shower, the fungus, the scientist who becomes one with the fungus, and the way the fungus infects humans and animals are all elements that belong in hard science fiction. However, the latter also bridges the gap between science fiction and horror. Humans die and turn into something resembling a plant. People get sick and stuff comes out of their mouths as they cough and cough. Body horror pervades the novel. The same could be said of the carved symbols and drawings that people make with their own blood or that of their victims: sure, it’s a police procedure in a way, but it’s also horror fiction.

The amount of action, suspense, gore and unique ideas and events packed into it The Unknown Garden, a relatively short novel, is a testament to Percy’s storytelling skills. The dialogues carry the plot very well here, the pacing is excellent, and when things get weird, they get really weird: collective psychoses, unsolved murders, desperate people not knowing if they’re an ambulance, the police, or a priest. A woman bangs against a table until her face is shattered, a man can hear nature and feel every living thing and his conscience if they’re close enough… the list goes on and on, and with each new chapter, Percy delivers a new round of elements that enrich the narrative and help keep readers glued to the page.

The Unknown Garden is the second novel in Percy’s Comet Cycle that began with The ninth metal and ends in June 2022 The vault of heaven. However, reading the previous novel is not a requirement to enjoy this one. The Unknown Garden works perfectly as a standalone novel, and it’s one that speaks volumes about Percy’s talent for creating worlds and then transforming them into something that feels entirely new. This is a dazzling sci-fi tale, a dark, sombre crime spree that dips its toes in horror, and a touching tale about a broken couple who learn to cope with a great loss without giving up their missing daughter. This is a rare novel , which offer something for every type of reader.


Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor, and book critic living in Austin, TX. He is the author of zero saints and Coyote Songs and the editor of Both sides. His work was nominated for the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the 2019 Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel. His short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies and his non-fiction books have appeared in the New York Timesthe Los Angeles Timesand CrimeReads. His work has been published in five languages, selected for films and praised by writers as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly on places like NPR, publishers weeklythe Chronicle of San Francisco, criminal element, Mysterious Grandstand, Vol. 1 Brooklynthe Los Angeles Book Review, and other print and online venues. He has twice been a judge for the Shirley Jackson Awards and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.


This and similar reviews in the May 2022 issue of location.

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