Tordotcom (April 2022)
At first glance, you see the flamingo pink and mauve-ish cover. It’s quite pretty with its edgy white font and really catches your attention. Then you look a little closer and see a dark figure in shades of black and grey, in a cloud of gloomy brush strokes, sitting on a chair with a knife at his feet. This figure is difficult to make out, but what you do see is frightening. Of course, being the twisted person that I am, I think it’s just as pretty as the pink. Tordotcom always manages to publish the best novellas with the most striking covers, and as per usual, And Then I Woke Up written by Malcolm Devlin, is outstanding on both fronts.
In a world reeling from an unusual plague, monsters lurk in the streets while terrified survivors arm themselves and roam the countryside in packs. Or perhaps something very different is happening. When a disease affects how reality is perceived, it’s hard to be certain of anything…
I always struggle to write a lengthy review for a under-200 page novella because I loathe spoilers in reviews. And all you really need to read is the above quote and, trust me, you’ll be hooked. But I digress.
This story isn’t just a story, it’s a fable. No, there aren’t an animal narrators, but there is definitely a moral here. Within these pages Devlin does an excellent job distorting realty. The idea is to confuse the reader with unreliable narrators, fear, uncertainty, maybe monsters (but maybe not), and mass hysteria, but also survivors coming out on the other side. Yet, you’ll ask yourself, “survivors of what?”
A mind-altering virus puts a stranglehold on the world and the survivors don’t know what to believe or who to trust. Part of the world believes certain facts that differ from another part of the world, even though they all are going through the same pandemic. Your next door neighbor believes one thing, your immediate family thinks something else, and you think something entirely different. Sound familiar? Well, imagine if the virus was in your head and messed with your perception of reality. How do you know what is really happening? Is the person you are looking at a monster? Or are you? Our protagonist Spence is living at the Ironside Rehabilitation Facility and must navigate this terrifying new reality. But if he can’t trust his own mind, who can he trust? That is genuine horror, friends.
And Then I Woke Up is a short novella, but it covers a large topic. It’s interesting, unique, timely, and unfortunately for us, it feels all too real.