To Summon Nightmares by J.K. Pendragon was pretty much everything I wanted to read when I started it a few days ago and then it just kept right on being everything I wanted at all times. I came home and rambled about it excitedly to my wife every evening (and, sometimes, texted her on my lunch break too).
It’s a paranormal story: Two boys, Jacky and Niall, are lovers. Still teenagers, they struggle with how to deal with Jacky’s abusive father and ultimately decide the best option is to summon a demon. Needless to say, the situation gets more than out of hand. Some years and a point of view shift later, we meet Cohen Brandwein, a popular author and internet vlog celebrity, who is moving to his aunt’s old house in a countryside town to try to get away from the stress of the media’s negative reaction to his coming out as trans. Little does he realize that he’s walking right into the middle of a horrifying set of serial murders, nor that the prime suspect is a hunky, self-admitted witch named Niall…
I loved both Niall and Cohen. Niall’s bravery and determination to do the right thing while agonizing over his sense of responsibility and lingering love is very tangible, but he’s kept from being a tortured love interest by both his sort of strange sense of being slightly off after everything that happened and also his blushing excitability (I was completely charmed by his being one of Cohen’s fans and trying to play off how starstruck he was). And Cohen was a delight as a point of view character. He was the perfect mix of reasonable but not gullible, clever and understandably dubious, risk-taking but with clear limits. He came to life in so many little ways—his decision to walk into town to get gas for his new car, and ending up sweaty and wheezing and Regretting yet still committed to this mission because dammit he started it was just. I feel you, dude, I feel you. It was a delight to get to read about him navigating through a mix of dealing with his family, his new neighbours, a new crush and, you know, horrible murders. And he and Niall were really sweet together.
Add to that a deeply enjoyable plot with a complex entanglement of risks and sacrifices all woven together with a really strong narrative voice, and Pendragon sold me not only on this but on picking up everything else of theirs. The only thing I found an odd choice (and even then, didn’t dislike, and it certainly doesn’t impact my rating) was having a complete point of view switch. I found myself wanting to get back into Niall’s head more, having already been there once, to get the full picture from both sides. That said, I still loved everything we got.
It’s been a few years since Pendragon wrote this, but I sincerely hope they do a sequel someday, because I will read it in a heartbeat. I want to see how Niall adjusts to his own [spoiler], and, of course, how Cohen reacts to [much bigger spoiler]. Because damn, that ending!