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Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner
Review by Drew Bittner
Angry Robot Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780857663696
Date: 27 May 2014 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

As a little girl, Audra was terrified by nightmares of a demonic clown perched at the foot of her bed. Now, all grown up, she works with that demonic clown, Mr. Jinx, as an officer of the Shadow Watch. Together they protect the world from Incubi, nightmares given flesh. But this time, they may be up against a dream worse than any child's night terrors.

Tim Waggoner creates a whole new mythology of sleep and its denizens in Night Terrors, the first of the Shadow Watch novels. Functioning with help from drugs and caffeine, Audra (like all Ideators [that is, those who bring their nightmares to life as Incubi]) cannot sleep. Her boss, Mr. Sanderson, is worried that she is slipping; what should have been a routine assignment to bring in noted assassin Quietus goes horribly wrong, ending up with dead bystanders. Worse, when they got Quietus back into the dreamland known as Nod, he managed to escape, albeit with help.

Audra discovers that part of this help was a mercenary Ideator she knew as a teenager--a boy named Russell whose Incubus was a monstrous dog named Bloodshedder. She finds that all is not what it seems, however, even as her case is handed off to a pair of rival officers.

Against Jinx's advice, Audra continues to pursue the case. It leads her to a private company specializing in treating sleep disorders, one that promises a revolutionary treatment, and thus brings her back into contact with one of her living nightmares: Dr. Kauffman, who was her therapist years ago. Kauffman, a graceful blonde in a lab coat, hardly seems like an object of terror, and yet Audra cannot let go of her instinctive fear of this woman.

Meanwhile, Audra and Jinx discover that their enemy--Quietus didn't escape on his own, after all--is far more powerful than they've suspected. Three times they are attacked by what are called incursions, raw energy of the sleep-powered Maelstrom intruding into waking reality. These incursions animate objects, turning cars into unstoppable golems and turning streets into tarry quicksand. Audra has to call upon Russell and her friend Connie (who drives a very special taxi) for help... but even with their assistance, it might be lights out for the Shadow Watch and for Earth itself.

Waggoner's world building is superb, offering up a smörgåsbord of tasty urban fantasy delights for the discerning reader. Nod, the Maelstrom and what they wreak on Earth (to be undone, hopefully, by the Watch's M-gineers) has a fantastic debut in this novel.

Audra and Jinx are a great duo as well. Audra is a young professional who's burning herself out with her career; Jinx is a psychotic clown, a cross between Pennywise from IT and an extra from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, producing sledgehammers from his coat and popping springs from his oversized floppy shoes. Audra doesn't entirely like or trust her own creation, but she has a series of epiphanies in the course of the story (brilliant!) that put the Incubi and her opinion of them in a whole new light. Jinx, especially in his demon-clown Night Aspect, is a figure of chaotic destruction, but even so, there are moments when he's...well, nicer than that, anyway.

Sanderson and Kauffman are a study in contrasts as well, both of them holding secrets that relate to Audra and Jinx. Part of the story involves how the past intrudes on the present and not all dreams are put aside with childhood; Waggoner is extraordinarily effective at presenting Audra as the sum of her experiences, even as she fights not to be defined by them.

Readers will enjoy this tour de strange, as it offers something new and interesting in urban fantasy. Not a wisecracking heroine toting around melee weapons, but a young woman and her crazy, nigh-indestructible partner, who have to sort out a relationship as they're trying to save the world. Good stuff indeed.

Recommended.

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