|Térata book cover, by Michael O’Leary|
When I read a monster book, I look for just the right amount of gore, mystery, and (in many cases) empathy with the beast. Térata, by Michael O’Leary, delivers all of that…except there are a dozen monsters instead of one (more, if you count the cast of mutant/superhuman characters known as the Awakened).
O’Leary takes us through a complicated alternative world where the Térata–monstrous shape-shifting creatures born in a lab–lurk in parks and auto dealerships, humans are able to realize alternative powers, and magic coexists with science.
The Térata were engineered to be emotionless creatures who obey orders without question. But something disrupts the militant mindset of a single Térata, “Number 1,” and that disruption spins us down a rabbit hole filled with tarot cards, supernatural beings, an alternative universe, mutiny, and yes, murder. Plenty of murder.
Many characters cross paths with Number 1 and his disrupter–plot lines and fates intertwining in an arena known as the Confluence. It’s sometimes difficult to keep up with all the characters and their motives (and some of them have unsatisfactory fates), but O’Leary manages to tie the many paths together at the end of the story.
In the world of Térata, humor exists among the terror, creatures cry (or have messy monster sex), and little girls are not always as innocent as they seem. It’s a world as complicated as our own, which makes it plausible and easy to sink your teeth into.
If there’s one complaint I have, it’s that some of the characters in this tale seem to get out of their sticky situations with too much ease. A knick-of-time rescuer or a conveniently-placed tool gets them out of trouble and they move on without much reflection on how their lives were nearly lost.
Térata moves us through a many-layered world, filled with imaginative interactions and complicated plot lines. It’s a raw kind of book–one that takes risks and forces the reader to suspend disbelief. Some of the writing is untidy, but it is, after all, a monster book. Full of slashing claws, fangs, and pheromones.
If you’re looking for an inventive read, a cast of morally ambiguous characters (think Walter White or Frank Underwood), and a healthy dose of terror, give Térata a go.
Kate Bitters is a Minneapolis-based author and freelance writer. She is the author of Elmer Left, Ten Thousand Lines, and He Found Me. One of her proudest/nerdiest moments was when Neil Gaiman read one of her short stories on stage at the Fitzgerald Theater.