“Agents of Dreamland” Caitlin R. Kiernan – book review

Recently I have read two excellent short story collections – The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett and Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti, which I can honestly recommend to any weird fiction fan. This time I decided to read Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland, a novelette which won the Bram Stoker Award in 2017. Why is it worth reading? Let’s find out. 

"Agents of Dreamland" Caitlin R. Kiernan - Weird Pond Review

Eventually you’ve got to understand that an answer isn’t the same thing as a solution, and a story is sometimes only an excuse. Nic Pizzolatto

Lovecraftian horror at its best

The action of Agents of Dreamland begins when a government agent called The Signalman is waiting in a typical American diner for a meeting with Immacolata Sexton, who represents another agency. They want to discuss the case of Drew Standish – leader of a bizarre cult. As it turns out, the whole situation is somehow connected with the New Horizons space probe, forgotten movie by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and even monsters from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft’s books.

“Only our minds,” says the alchemist, “need to leave this sphere and make the long, cold journey through the dark. These bodies we wear are no more, my love, than tattered garments we’ve outgrown. In this new world we’ll have new forms, new bodies.

Caitlin R. Kiernan’s novel Agents of Dreamland is full of references to short stories written by the master of horror from Providence. The cult leader uses a mysterious Black Book, Fungi from Yuggoth play a significant role throughout the whole book, and the shrine of Nyarlathotep and Azathoth turns out to be a shelter for refugees trying to survive in a city full of monsters straight out of nightmare. 

Behold the black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious cyclopean bridges.

The similarities do not end here. Caitlin R. Kiernan also managed to convey the overwhelming atmosphere of hopelessness which H.P. Lovecraft’s stories are famous for. The protagonists of Agents of Dreamland are confronted with unknown forces, against whom they just don’t stand a chance. I believe that the unsettling, dark atmosphere accompanying the reader from the very beginning until the last page of the novel is its most significant advantage.

The X-Files in the world of Cthulhu Mythos

… some stains sink straight through to the souls and are never coming out. 

Have you read the great short story by Neil Gaiman – A Study in Emerald? The author placed the famous detective known from Arthur Conan Doyle’s book – Sherlock Holmes, in the universe created by H.P. Lovecraft. The result, as you may have seen, was fantastic. The situation is similar when it comes to Agents of Dreamland – Caitlin R. Kiernan utilized the world of Cthulhu Mythos and enriched it with government intrigues and intelligence agencies continually trying to maintain people in blissful ignorance. Sounds like a script for a perfect The X-Files episode, right? Let’s also add some elements straight out from David Lynch’s movies, and the result will be terrific.

Caitlin R. Kiernan slowly and skillfully reveals us further information concerning The Signalman, Immacolata, and the mysterious cult led by Drew Standish. With each new clue, we discover more and more dark secrets hidden in Agents of Dreamland plot, leading us to a terrifying finale. The author’s beautiful style, which significantly intensifies the feeling of anxiety accompanying us while reading, is just cherry the cherry on top. For instance, the unsettling image of fallen City, where mutated people and animals fight for survival, made a huge impression on me. I would definitely like to read a full-fledged novel or a collection of stories set in the universe created by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I am not even mentioning a TV series based on Agents of Dreamland, which for me, would be a dream come true.  

Summing up:

Agents of Dreamland gave me exactly what I expected from it – great entertainment mixed with the kind of anxiety, you can get only from good weird fiction works. If you have ever wondered how would a crossover between The X-Files and Lovecraft’s short stories look like – Caitlin R. Kiernan’s book, in my opinion, is as good an answer as you can get. Agents of Dreamland will undoubtedly join our list of interesting horror books which you should read. Highly recommended.  

Grade: 7.5/10

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