The books: Lorestalker series (1-5) by J.P. Barnett
The music: “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult
A few years back, as I was wandering the country, I found myself at a cryptozoology museum in New England (I won’t mention the name because when I criticized it on Twitter, the owner got a little pissy about it). Suffice it to say, the exhibits were built on some questionable “science.” And I wondered, how can anyone believe this stuff?
Well, the Lorestalker series takes this and runs with it. It follows Miriam Brooks, daughter or renowned cryptozoologist Skylar Brooks, as she and her friends investigate weird phenomena around the country, from a Bigfoot-like creature, to a giant kracken and skinwalkers.
Book 1, The Beast of Rose Valley, takes place in small-town Texas. Some creature is killing livestock and animals at a wildlife sanctuary, and the powers that be are trying to cover it up. What hooked me into this book, and the series as a whole, as that I figured out who was responsible about 1/3 of the way in – and then the author said, “Yep, here’s what you figured out but also here’s this twist.” It’s a great twist, something that’s built on in the rest of the series so I won’t spoil it, but something that makes you want to try to figure out each book as you’re reading it. Throw in likeable, believable characters, and this is a series you won’t want to put down.
Book 2, The Kraken of Cape Madre, switches the main character from a Texas guy to Miriam. This threw me at first, since she was basically just a side character in the first book with no POV, but it works for the series, and she becomes the main protagonist for most of the series. Miriam, her cousin, and her best friend are on vacation on the Texas Gulf coast, and a giant octopus appears. Again, the author takes everything you think you’ve figured out about the story, tells you you’re right, and then takes it further with a similar twist to what he did in the first book. The plot is good, but it’s the characters that have me giving this book 5 stars. Miriam is very real, from her on-the-spectrum-ish behavior instilled in her by her obsessive, narcissistic father, to her guilt-ridden PTSD earned in the last book. Even without the enjoyable sci-fi/fantasy/thriller/horror elements, I’d keep reading just to tag along on her adventures and watch her growth.
Book 3, The Witch of Gray’s Point, shifts gears a bit. Miriam is taking a study break at her father’s ranch in the Texas desert – only he’s there too, with his new team of assistants. Miriam and her dad have a complicated relationship, to put it mildly, but she’s convinced to stay at least the night. And that’s when the skinwalkers show up – Native American demon people. Based on their descriptions and their abilities, I thought there was no way this book could have the same twist as the others – but then bam, there it was, showing just how creative and ingenious the author is. Some great character development in this too, for characters I wasn’t expecting it from, and I was even more invested in the series to see how everyone continues to grow.
By book 4, The Haunt at Hogg Run, I was devouring this series. As in, as soon as I finished book 3 I immediately bought and read book 4. Unfortunately, book 4 was a shift away from the themes of the rest of the series. I’m not saying it wasn’t good – it definitely was – but it was almost straight-up slasher horror, compared to sci-fi/thriller/horror of the rest of the series. This book focuses mostly on Macy Donner, Miriam’s best friend. We know her pretty well at this point, but it was jarring for her to carry the book on her own, without her friends along. And the cryptid in this book, unlike the rest of them, is revealed pretty early, so there’s none of the related suspense that the rest of the series has had. Again, this is a good book, but it broke my stride in the series a bit.
Book 5, The Devil of Misty Lake, was a return to the rest of the series. Miriam and Macy have their first real cryptid investigation, this time in the forest of the Pacific Northwest (I would’ve loved to see a reference to the Pacific Northwest tree octopus). The author also returns to the same twist/reveal he’s used in the prior books, and it works as well here as it did in the rest of them. I also liked the introduction of the new characters – a monster-focused bounty hunter and a local guide – who I hope to see teaming up with Miriam and Macy in future books. Miriam again shows some great character growth in this book, especially at the end, that I expect to affect her in future books as well. Macy has growth too, the realistic kind that comes from her experience in book 4, that demonstrate the author’s deep understanding of human nature.
Overall, I highly recommend this series. It’s a mix of sci-fi, horror, and thriller, but the characters are so skillfully written that the plot almost takes a backseat and becomes a way for them to interact and grow. Even if you’re not generally into this kind of series, I recommend at least checking out the first book.
The song accompanying this week’s books is awesome in its own right, but there’s one lyric that specially applies: “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.” And that’s the theme of these stories – whenever people start messing with nature, bad things happen. Again, and again, and again….