(Disclosure: I received an electronic copy from the publisher for review purposes via Netgalley.)
“The Beauty” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where disease has wiped out the entire human female population. It is narrated by Nate, a young man living a simple and settled existence in a small rural community of boys and men. He holds a special role in the community, that of storyteller. It is a role that he clearly deserves with the distinctive voice that author Aliya Whiteley gives him, a voice that is at once poetic and crystalline.
The community’s life is thrown into chaos with the arrival of The Beauty – mute and faceless fungoid creatures that have arisen from the graves of women and taken on strangely alluring feminine forms. Some literally and figuratively embrace The Beauty as embodiments of love; as Nate says, “The Beauty offer comfort, sex and softness. What else is there?” Others fear and distrust the Beauty – and when the extent of their power becomes fully apparent, the divide widens, with violent and catastrophic consequences.
“The Beauty” is an exemplary representation of New Weird, a subgenre variously described as “cutting edge speculative fiction with a literary slant”, a borderless combination of science fiction, fantasy and supernatural horror, and fiction that “subverts clichés of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends.” It is exquisitely crafted, astonishingly creative, and discomfiting as hell.