#72: The Faceless One by Mark Onspaugh
In 1948, when he was just a boy, Jimmy Kalmaku trained with his uncle to be the shaman of his Tlingit village in Alaska. There he learned the old legends, the old myths, the old secrets. Chief among them was that of a mask locked in a prison of ice, and of the faceless god imprisoned within: a cruel and vengeful god called T'Nathluk, dedicated to the infliction of pain and suffering.
Now all but forgotten in a Seattle retirement home, Jimmy finds his life turned upside down. For when an unwitting archaeologist pries the mask free of its icy tomb, he frees T’Nathluk as well. Stuck in spirit form, the Faceless One seeks a human to serve as a portal through which he can enter our reality. The Faceless One can control—and mercilessly torture—anyone who touches the mask, which means there is no shortage of slaves to ferry it across the country to its chosen host.
Yet the Faceless One has foes as well: Stan Roberts, a tough New York cop whose pursuit of justice will lead him into a dark abyss of the soul; Steven, Liz, and Bobby, the family of the doomed archaeologist; and Jimmy Kalmaku, who must at last become the shaman of his boyhood dreams.
I received a gratis ebook from the publisher via NetGalley.
I don't usually read horror, but I requested this because it utilizes Tlingit mythology. I read a lot of dark fantasy, and it's unusual for a book to deviate from the usual Irish/Anglo/Nordic pantheons, or from Navajo among American native traditions. I went on an Alaskan cruise earlier this year and I had hopes to learn more about the Tlingit people.
The book has a lot going for it, but some negatives as well.
It starts slowly because the perspective head hops a lot. As a reader, this was downright infuriating at times and I almost stopped reading. It felt like the book was trying to be a movie by focusing on people just long enough for them to meet a horrific death. This happened repeatedly. I didn't like the intensity of the gore and violence in the deaths, but I won't downgrade the book for that--I knew to expect horror, and it delivered.
Once those killings stopped at about halfway through, the book picked up pace considerably and became a riveting read. The family of Steven, Liz, and Bobby is nice enough, and a lot of tension is increased because six-year-old Bobby is the obvious goal of the Faceless One and it's not clear why. Stan feels like a generic NYPD detective but he grows more nuanced as he endures hell; I especially liked how things developed with his partner.
However, the real reason I read on was the character of Jimmy and his best bud from the old folks' home. I ADORED them. Paranormal books need more senior heroes! I loved their constant banter, racial slurs and all, because it felt so grounded and real.
The plot contained twists up through the ending. I did indeed learn more about Tlingit mythology and history, as I hoped. It's made clear that the Faceless One is a "hidden" element of their shamanic tradition (i.e. likely an invention), but Onspaugh does draw on the importance of ravens, otters, and the power of the bond between uncle and nephew.
I am by no means converted to read more horror, but this ended up being a good enough book in the end, with the highlights being the "old farts" as heroes and Tlingit culture.