Summary: Harrison Harrison—H2 to his mom—is a lonely teenager who’s been terrified of the water ever since he was a toddler in California, when a huge sea creature capsized their boat, and his father vanished. One of the “sensitives” who are attuned to the supernatural world, Harrison and his mother have just moved to the worst possible place for a boy like him: Dunnsmouth, a Lovecraftian town perched on rocks above the Atlantic, where strange things go on by night, monsters lurk under the waves, and creepy teachers run the local high school.
On Harrison’s first day at school, his mother, a marine biologist, disappears at sea. Harrison must attempt to solve the mystery of her accident, which puts him in conflict with a strange church, a knifewielding killer, and the Deep Ones, fish-human hybrids that live in the bay. It will take all his resources—and an unusual host of allies—to defeat the danger and find his mother.
Thoughts: The somewhat meta-prequel to We Are All Completely Fine, Harrison Squared tells the story that Jameson hinted at in WAACF, the story of his childhood experiences in Dunnsmouth, where he discovered that there’s more to the world than the mundane. I say meta-prequel because in We Are All Completely Fine, Jameson admits to having written about his experiences in the form of fiction, changing his name from Jameson Jameson to Harrison Harrison. Fiction disguised as fact disguised as fiction, and this approach from Daryl Gregory doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. This could be considered a prequel, or an in-universe novel, or both.
This is what you get when you read Gregory’s novels. Something to make you think, something that isn’t quite what you expect and that challenges expectations. It’s one of the reasons why I love reading his work.
This book is pretty short, a nice quick read, and between this and the protagonist being a teenager in high school, it could easily be classed as YA. I’m not entirely sure it isn’t, but it doesn’t really feel like it, at least to me. Maybe it’s because it’s the prequel to a much darker novel, maybe it’s because the publisher has its own YA imprint and this book wasn’t published through them, I don’t know. Either way, there’s enough crossover here that fans of both YA and adult fantasy can find something to like here, especially when their interest falls to Lovecraftian fiction.
It’s an interesting mystery that Gregory crafts here, at first seeming like Harrison’s problem will lie in figuring out why everyone at his new school are so weird (and that goes beyond the typical teenager definition of weird; most teenagers don’t have coded finger-tapping communication, attend classes on how to reanimate frogs using a car battery, or spent morning assemblies chanting in a strange incomprehensible moaning language), progressing to solving the mystery behind his mother’s disappearance. Those who have read We Are All Completely Fine will see bits and pieces of everything Jameson talked about, from Dwellers to the Scrimshander. This was a double-edged sword, since while it was interesting to see how the character encountered all these concepts and people, in the end it felt almost as though the author was trying to shoehorn as many of them in as possible. They did all play a part in the plot, at least, but it still started to feel a bit cramped with references by the end.
Still, it’s a fascinating and complex story that Gregory builds, layers upon layers of little points of interest that could have been done away with — such as fingercant — without changing the story much at all. But its their presence that adds realism to the dark fantasy, which I always love to see. People are always more complex and varied than the stories they take part in; Gregory has been excellent at expressing this in prior works, and this is no exception. The bad guys are not always people who the protagonist dislikes, and the good guys are not always the ones who instantly flock to the golden boy. They’re not always intensely dedicated to one goal and one alone. And you don’t always seen everything of them during the course of the story. There were characters with stories that I very much wanted to see elaborated, particularly within the group of teens who weren’t so keen on the cult-like activities of Dunnsmouth’s adults. There’s another host of novels (or at least a large collection of short stories) in those characters, and I’d love to read them. Gregory really has the knack of making people on pages feel real and expansive.
I can definitely recommend Harrison Squared to those who read and enjoyed We Are All Completely Fine. That much I’m sure of, and those who read the sequel first will probably appreciate the references and tie-ins. Those who haven’t read it, though, I think will probably think that this is definitely a decent book but probably won’t appreciate it as much as those who have stepped into the mythos beforehand. Some of the fun was in seeing what connected things to We Are All Completely Fine, and though it functions perfectly well as a standalone novel, I do recommend reading the two books together. They make a much more comprehensive picture together, complementing each other well, and the experience is better for it.
(Received for review from the publisher.)