The Bookwyrm's Review of Black Heart Boy's Choir by Curtis M. Lawson
Author: Curtis M. Lawson
Length: 252 Pages
Release Date: September 8, 2019
Publisher: Wyrd Horror
Being a fan of the author's other books, including his book Devoured and his Bad World series, it was a pleasant surprise to get an advanced review copy of his new release, Black Heart Boys' Choir. It is definitely a step back towards his horror roots after a swing into urban fantasy with Bad World and Weird West with The Devoured.
Lucien Beaumont and his family have fallen on hard times. His father, a famous composer, committed suicide, and he and his mother have been forced to relocate to a much less affluent town in Massachusetts. This also means Lucien had to leave his prep school and start into public school. Being an intelligent, sophisticated music prodigy, Lucien dresses in suits, has manners, and has a superiority complex about who he is in comparison to the other kids. This of course leads him into conflict with the cool kids cliques, which are particularly nasty. He also runs afoul of the Glee Club kids, who he considers untalented pop music hacks. its under these conditions that the plot proceeds.
After some run ins with the school bully and the Glee club, Lucien and his only friend Maxwell decide to start their own musical group. they enlist a couple outsiders like themselves who appreciate classical music, and start practicing. They are told on to the school administration, though, and banned from using school premises. This is where they pick up the name of their group, the Black Heart Boy's Choir, from their penchant for wearing all black suits and being aloof to the other students.
It is also about this time that Lucien discovers his obsession, his father's last piece of unfinished work. It has been defaced, but he starts to reconstruct it. He also starts to have strange visions, as he sees into the past to events he sees in whole new light, seeing his father was inspired by more than a creative muse to create his masterpiece, the Madrigal of The World's End. the inspirations may or may not be an ancient demon named Amduscias, who manifests (or maybe not) in Lucien's mind as a black unicorn. As the group reconstructs the music though ever more terrifying and horrible means, the music comes together at last in a crescendo of blood, chaos and madness, as the Choir performs the finished piece to a very unknowing audience, with completely shocking results.
CHARACTERS AND WORLD BUILDING
The world building in this one takes a realistic approach, using an abandoned city n Massachusetts, reimagined as a suburb of Boston. Gritty, lower middle class, you can fairly see the variety of neighborhoods in the city, giving it a lived in atmosphere. The author goes into some loving detail with several of the locations, without going into info dump territory.
Characters are such a strength in this book. while you would think that high school kids would be cardboard cutouts of pop culture teens like those in Heathers, Mean Girls or Fast Times at Ridgemont High, these characters are surprisingly nuanced. The characters deal with realistic situations in realistic ways, while handling real world problems, like social hierarchy, bullying, decaying family structure, suicide, political correctness and class differences. Lucien is a great character, who has to deal with so many issues, and how he handles them is well written, if sad and terrifying at the same time. The various other characters get attention paid to their growth as well, and it really helps round out the story.
I was amazed how much this dark story spoke to me. I remember those feelings of loneliness and ostracism being an outsider at a new high school. Lucien is a complex, and ultimately horribly flawed character, but its hard not seeing a bit of myself in him, although with much different results. The end of this book is extremely relevant currently, and I recommend this book to anyone looking for a dark story with genuine, flawed characters on the path to ruin. One of the best reads of 2019 for me.