Note: Review copy received from publisher
Title: Urban Gothic
Author: Stephen Coghlan
Publisher: Kyanite Publishing
Length: 164 pages
Burned out and drugged up, Alec LeGuerrier spends his days faking it, barely eking out an existence while living in a haze of confusion and medicated mellowness. That is, until he stops a gang of nightmarish oddities from killing a strange young woman with indigo eyes.
Dragged into the lands of the dreaming, he must come to terms with his brutal past and his grim imagined future in a land his body knows is real, but his mind refuses to acknowledge.
Stephen Coghlan has appeared on this site before. I reviewed his novel GENMOS back in March 2018 and hosted an interview with him in the same month. Having enjoyed the aforementioned novel, I was more than happy to dive into this new outing from him.
Let’s start with a definition. Some may not be familiar with the term ‘dreampunk’. The thing is, it’s quite a broad genre, and the chances are that you are familiar with something that falls within it. For example, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels would certainly be part of the genre. As a basic definition though, it can be viewed as a literary subgenre that, while at times similar to other ‘punk’ genres (such as cyber and steam), includes dream logic as an integral part of its workings.
Now, onto the book itself. Being a novella, it was a fairly quick read. This was aided by Stephen’s writing style. I would say that his work – or those examples that I’ve read – tends to be very tidy insofar as nothing feels wasted. There’s no filler, and everything serves to help push the story along. And it’s certainly an intriguing story, at that. We’re immediately thrown into a narrative that quickly and effectively introduces us to Alec and how he views his place in the world, and then dives headlong into the beginnings of the dream focus. It all feels very rapid fire, but in a way that keeps you moving rather than confuses.
That’s important because, when we learn things about the world of Urban Gothic, we do so quickly. Without the clarity and focus, it would be easy to get lost in the concepts presented. And that would be a real shame, because it’s one concept in particular that drew me into the story the most: the idea of dreams as living things. If you’ve ever written stories, you may find yourself feeling guilt over killing off a character or wrecking their lives. Readers too get this, with plenty of messages sent to authors bemoaning how they’ve treated a character each and every year. Urban Gothic does a great job of presenting this connection to fictional characters as a tangible thing, where fiction becomes something more solid. It’s wonderful to read, because it really makes you think about how much attachment we have to other worlds. Even outside this though, the world building is fun, and the story feels all the more fleshed out because of it.
Alec is a decent lead for this story too. Not perfect, not even close in fact, but with enough sense of good intentions built in to make him likable. The supporting cast are also good, with Veleda being the one that gets the most page time. She helps drive the plot forward in terms of introducing Alec to his surroundings and potential purpose, and remains interesting throughout. Frederick too was important in helping Alec find what he needed to be a hero, and while I would have liked a little more page time for him, his role shouldn’t be understated .
The one issue that you may find here is that, as is often the case with a good novella, you may feel that the story would have also worked as a full length novel. As such, there’s the potential that you’re left wanting there to be more to read. The thing is, I do feel that it works absolutely fine in this shorter form. In a way it’s fitting, as dreams themselves can sometimes feel far shorter than we want them to be. So, I’m going to give this one a solid 4.5 out of 5.