A cynical twentysomething must confront her unconventional family’s dark secrets in this fiery, irreverent horror novel from the author of Such Sharp Teeth and Cackle.
Nobody has a “normal” family, but Vesper Wright’s is truly…something else. Vesper left home at eighteen and never looked back—mostly because she was told that leaving the staunchly religious community she grew up in meant she couldn’t return. But then an envelope arrives on her doorstep.
Inside is an invitation to the wedding of Vesper’s beloved cousin Rosie. It’s to be hosted at the family farm. Have they made an exception to the rule? It wouldn’t be the first time Vesper’s been given special treatment. Is the invite a sweet gesture? An olive branch? A trap? Doesn’t matter. Something inside her insists she go to the wedding. Even if it means returning to the toxic environment she escaped. Even if it means reuniting with her mother, Constance, a former horror film star and forever ice queen.
When Vesper’s homecoming exhumes a terrifying secret, she’s forced to reckon with her family’s beliefs and her own crisis of faith in this deliciously sinister novel that explores the way family ties can bind us as we struggle to find our place in the world.
It’s almost indisputable that Rachel Harrison is the Queen of cozy horror. Black Sheep, whilst certainly still scary, is a continuation of the warm, autumnal vibes we’ve seen from the author so far- and I loved it. Regardless of where or when you’re reading, Black Sheep will transport you back to sequestered fall afternoons. You will want to grab yourself a pumpkin spice latte, snuggle under a blanket (making sure your feet are safely tucked in) and immerse yourself in the world of hyper-religious cults, satanic weddings, and scolding-hot nacho cheese.
Black Sheep delivers an utterly hilarious first-person narrative and is incredibly character driven. In Chapter 1, we meet Vesper- currently working at her local restaurant. Whilst her bone-dry sarcasm, and total lack of enthusiasm makes for an incredibly amusing story- Harrison created an incredibly three-dimensional and complex narrator, who endures an emotional roller-coaster, and takes us readers along for the ride.
Having escaped a rather unconventional, religious childhood Vesper… is still miserable. Having landed a waitressing job, in which she is forced to put up with asshole customers and two-faced colleagues- her knee-jerk dismissal isn’t the end of the world. However, when she receives an invitation to the wedding of her estranged best friend Rosie, and teenage boyfriend, she decides to attend out of spite, and her world is flipped on its head forever. At first, she’s indifferent toward returning home, and even puts on a pretend smile for her warm-hearted Aunt Grace, and her ice-cold, scream-queen mother Constance (who still has the emotional range of a pebble). But everything changes when a dark secret surrounding her identity is revealed, and her downright bizarre upbringing is illuminated.
The pacing here was SUBLIME. The dark-academia atmosphere is incredibly uneasy on the surface, but something truly dark seems to loom beneath Aunt Grace’s signature banana choc-chip pancakes and Brody’s comfortingly familiar kiss. The inescapable sense that something is not quite right builds and builds until it reaches a crescendo and IMPLODES at around the 70% mark. Rachel (in my humble opinion) achieved the perfect ratio of slow burn : action, and Black Sheep perfectly demonstrates the fact that patience is rewarded. This nicely segues us into the ending. As a responsible reviewer, I would never let anything slip, but I just must tell you that it’s completely bonkers, and devilishly good.
Those who know me, know I love myself a small-town horror. Whilst the comparison is far from perfect, imagine Todd Keisling’s “Devil’s Creek,” interwoven with that signature Rachel Harrison writing style that we know and love.
All in all, I had such a fun time. Black Sheep is already available in the US and is coming out in the UK in January 2024. I absolutely urge you to treat yourself and pick this one up… it is not one to be missed.