Firstly, a huge thanks to Titan Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: 15/06/2021
Length: 284 pages
Genre: Horror | Gothic Horror
CW: disturbing horror, child death, drug abuse, animal death, animal abuse
Sean hasn’t spoken a word since he was put into care. When he is sent to live with his grandad, a retired author and total stranger, Sean suddenly finds himself living an affluent life, nothing like the estate he grew up in, where gangs run the streets and violence is around every corner.GoodReads
Sean embraces a new world of drawing, sculpting and reading his grandad’s stories. But his grandad has secrets in his past. As his grandad retreats to the shed, buried at the end of his treasured garden, The Baku emerges.
The Baku is ancient, a creature that feeds on our fears, and it corrupts everything it touches. Plagued by nightmares, with darkness spreading through the house, Sean must confront his fears to free himself and his grandad from the grip of the Baku.
As we’re in the height of the spooky season, I wanted to share my review of The Book of Baku which I read a few weeks ago. I had come across the Japanese myth of the ‘Baku’ a few times and I was curious to see how it would be presented in this novel; I quickly found out that this was a chilling take that still haunts me weeks later.
This novel gripped me straight away. Personally, I love it when novels open up with the present day and then take us back to see how our protagonist has got to that particular moment. We are thrown straight into the depths of fear and despair as Sean, our protagonist is being chased and locks himself away. I found myself quickly endeared to Sean as we’re introduced to him, a troubled and traumatised disabled teen who can’t bring himself to speak following being put into care. Despite there not being a conversation between himself and his estranged Grandfather, I really enjoyed the way their awkward relationship was portrayed and how they seemed to have an understanding.
With this novel, nothing is quite what it seems from the setting to the characters and I loved that gradual reveal of how dark the situation truly is as the novel progresses. From the subtle (and not so subtle) changes in his Grandfather’s behaviour to the perfect garden hiding something rotten beneath it and, of course, the darkest aspect of them all: The Book of the Baku. This is a collection of short stories written by Sean’s Grandfather shortly after his wife died, however, it’s so much more than a book. I loved seeing how invested, almost obsessed, with the book Sean became when he first stumbled across it and how passages of it are included in the novel rather than just Sean explaining what he had read. Boyle masterfully puts you on edge, only allowing you to glance away from the page to check that the Mirror-Eyed Man or The Doctor or the Baku himself isn’t behind you.
The creeping horror, captivating writing and the short chapter lengths this is a novel that is made to be devoured in a night (if you’re brave enough). The way Sean’s disability was incorporated into the story was really well done and you could see there was careful consideration on how to go about it. There were moments where his leg and mobility didn’t seem to bother or impact Sean, however, there were also moments where there would be lingering pain which seemed to heighten the tension (what if something happened and he couldn’t get away?), as well as moments where he was willing all of his strength to continue because something was after him or he needed to get somewhere. At no point in this novel did his disability, or his inability to speak, feel like an afterthought, it was always present either just as part of Sean or as a way to develop a sense of urgency.
I also loved the concept of the Baku, a mythological creature known to aid a peaceful night’s sleep by eating the nightmares of children, becoming consumed by the nightmares, and spreading them, instead, to others as if the fears are their own. I had many of my own theories to explain what was going on, however, Boyle deftly evaded every single one of them. Even though the Baku was the main dominating figure always in the background of Sean’s mind, or watching him in the shadows. Each of the nightmares we are introduced to are just as terrifying. I could very clearly see the disturbing image of the Mirror-Eyed Man in my mind whilst reading this novel, and after I had finished it. There is also a moment with the Mirror-Eyed Man that felt so cinematic, almost as if it was a jumpscare on the page, that I found particularly unnerving.
Overall, I loved this novel and there is so much more I could say about this novel from the flashbacks into Sean’s past or his art that doesn’t always stay as he left it, however, I must end this review before I say too much. This is definitely a must-read for any fans of horror, however, if you are prone to nightmares or easily disturbed… be careful, because “sleepless nights will take their toll, / They whip your body, break your soul.”