Awoken

Awoken

Awoken is Serra Elinsen’s debut novel and was first published in 2013. It’s both a pastiche and parody of a young adult paranormal novel which takes the form of the story of a teenage girl who falls in love with Cthulhu. The novel is the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Andromeda “Andi” Slate hates Portsmouth and longs to return to the sun-drenched shores of California. Everything about her new home is dull and she’s generally ignored by everyone but her two closest friends, Vik and Bree. But then she starts having strange dreams about an octopus-faced sea monster and a gorgeous teenage boy. The dreams seem unusually vivid and she wonders what they could mean.

When Vik comes into possession of a copy of the Necronomicon, the group ignore all the warnings about its curse and read it out loud. Moments later, Andi runs into the same boy from her dreams. It turns out that he’s the new exchange student, Riley Bay. He seems do nothing but glare at Andi but for some reason, he still seems to relentlessly stalk her wherever she goes. Andi is quite rightly baffled by this behaviour. Could it mean that he likes her?

But boys aren’t all that Andi has to worry about. The stars will come into perfect alignment on the night of the Pumpkin Ball, giving evil cultists a chance to summon Great Cthulhu from his slumber to destroy the world. To do this, they need to get their hands on two books. The rare and precious Eldritch Grimore…and the Necronomicon.

It seems weird given the name of this blog that our first dabble into the Mythos would be this book…

Anyhow, you may have noticed by now that paranormal romance isn’t my favourite genre. While it’s not always terrible (and I’ve even got a newfound appreciation for Twilight after being introduced to Hush, Hush and Evermore), it just contains so many clichés that wind me up. Awoken takes all of these clichés and runs with them, playing itself off as entirely straight. The humour comes from just how absurd it makes these look.

“What has been weeks to you, diminutive being, were less than seconds to me,” Riley said quietly. “To me, the time was nothing. As you are nothing.”

“But…but what about the Pumpkin Ball?”

He turned from me. I thought for a moment I saw a tear slide down his cheek. “I…I cannot take you to the Pumpkin Ball.”

This isn’t really a story that everyone will enjoy. Firstly, you have to be pretty familiar with the way that paranormal romances are written to recognise the knowing overuse of their tropes. Secondly, you do really need to know a bit about Lovecraft’s work. The story isn’t very accessible if you’re not familiar with beings such as Great Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep and Azathoth as it doesn’t really explain who any of these are. Without this background knowledge, some of the humour is lost and I imagine it would come across as being a straight attempt to write a sub-par paranormal romance.

I should probably also note that, if you are a fan of Lovecraft’s work as I am, you need to also be able to not take it too seriously. To fully appreciate the absurdity that is Awoken you need to be able to see how ridiculous it is to adapt horror stories of this kind to romantic fiction. This isn’t a serious entry to the Mythos – it’s supposed to be a joke. The text isn’t even entirely accurate as Elinsen does get a lot of her “facts” wrong, though I expect that a lot of this is entirely intentional. You just need to take it for what it is.

For those who get the joke, you’re treated to an incredibly self-aware novel that intelligently tackles this concept. All of the genre clichés that I have grown to hate are all played up for laughs.

Special snowflake who would die without her one true love? We have Andi (“I don’t care!” I sobbed, “I don’t want to live…Just eat my soul, Great One. Eat my soul!”)

Brooding and controlling supernatural beau? We have Riley (“It is clear to me now that I cannot leave you alone,” he said. “You will only hurt yourself.”)

Heavy handed referencing back to classic literature? We have The Phantom of the Opera and the dawning realisation that the author may have only seen the musical and never read the book for herself. (“My emotions were in tumult. Was this how the ingénue Christine felt, the first time her Angel of Music, her Phantom of the Opera, commanded her?”)

Stereotypical characters? We have so many. Pick from the overweight best friend who is always eating. The Indian childhood friend who is interested in Bollywood music and yoga. The femme fatale who is almost certainly evil…

You get the idea. The story is atypical, definitely created from the same mould as the likes of Twilight. Yet the plot is surprisingly focused for a paranormal romance and does actually flow pretty well. While it’s transparently obvious who the villains of the story are, the action is nicely spaced through out the story and it does build to a pretty neat climax. Naturally, Andi does not witness a lot of the final battle, but at least she does have a fairly good reason for having her eyes closed – the sight of multiple Great Ones in their true forms would have liquified her brain.

Yet you can’t escape the fact that this story is, by nature, absurd. For all its competent action, it’s still the story about the girl who wants to go to the ball with an eldritch horror and the authors go to great lengths to keep reminding you of this fact. If you weren’t aware, this novel was actually written by Lindsay “former Nostalgia Chick” Ellis, Nella Inserra and Elisa Hansen and they definitely know what they’re doing. Even the author is parody of the kind of person you would expect to write a two-bit paranormal romance. This is made clear in the Acknowledgements section, where she describes the fact that she’s quit many writers’ groups because the members criticised her work, gained all of her knowledge about Lovecraft from a guy she met online, and belongs to an obscure religion (May the Bridge of the Lamb Fall Upon you all!). Serra Elinsen may well be my favourite thing about this entire story.

Yet it’s the characters that really make this memorable. Not the supporting cast – these are swiftly shunted into the background. Don’t expect to learn more about Andi’s relationship with her family or school friends. This is all about her undying love for Riley. Andi is determined to keep the story romantic and is always quick to pull the focus back onto herself. She is woefully unable to see the bigger picture, fretting over whether Riley likes her during scenes when any normal person would be fearing for the survival of the human race.

“I…am the Priest All-High of the Great Old Ones.”

The words hit me with the force of a blow. I gaped in the dark. I was shattered, the awful weight of implication crushing me to a fine powder. Riley…a priest? “Does that mean…that you can’t…you know, be with someone…?”

Conversely, Riley is a horrifying boyfriend (yet, somehow I still preferred him to some of the other creepy weirdos I’ve read in paranormal romance stories of late. I’m looking at you, Patch). He’s patronising, controlling and what he even sees in Andi is never fully quantified. He always speaks in an overly dramatic way, rarely calling Andi by name and instead reiterating how insignificant she is to him with every word.

There isn’t really much more that I can say about this one. If you’re one of the people who are both a fan of Lovecraft and have a knowledge of paranormal romance clichés, this novel is hilarious and I’m sure that you’ll love it. For people who aren’t, I’m not sure how much appeal it will actually hold. It was, however, right up my street and I’ll definitely be reading its sequel.

Awoken can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Bound | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: The Sobeks 2016 – Part 3 | Arkham Reviews
  3. Trackback: One Wish Away | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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