Title: The Supernatural Enhancements
Author: Edgar Cantero
No. of Pages: 368
Origins: Knopf Doubleday
Release Date: 12 August 2014
Bottom Line: Clever and fun
“When twentysomething A., the European relative of the Wells family, inherits a beautiful, yet eerie, estate set deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never knew he had a “second cousin, twice removed” in America, much less that his eccentric relative had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . .
Together with A.’s companion, Niamh, a mute teenage punk girl from Ireland, they arrive in Virginia and quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and an opulent lifestyle. Axton House is haunted… they know it…but the presence of a ghost is just the first of a series of disturbing secrets they slowly uncover. What led to the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze – and what does the basement vault keep? Even more troubling, what of the rumors in town about a mysterious yearly gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?
Told vividly through a series of journal entries, cryptic ciphers, recovered security footage, and letters to a distant Aunt Liza, Edgar Cantero has written an absorbing, kinetic and highly original supernatural adventure with classic horror elements that introduces readers to a deviously sly and powerful new voice.”
Thoughts: The premise of the story is A.’s inheritance of Axton House upon the suicide of his American second cousin. He brings with him a companion, Niamh, a mute teen with a larger-than-life personality. Together, they settle into their new house, complete with its missing butler, mysterious noises and light displays, and a reputation hundreds of years long. A. and Niamh soon discover that Uncle Ambrose had his fair share of secrets, including a secret society meeting for which even the servants could not attend. The story follows A. and Niamh’s search for answers in the mysterious Axton House, something that is anything but ordinary.
The entire novel has an otherworldly feel to it. This is in part due to the fact that all of the characters in the novel sound and act like they are from a different era entirely. Niamh, with her witty notes, her punk appearance, and her amazing technological skills, feels like the only one who truly belongs in the twentieth century. Even A. tends to talk and to act like a turn-of-the-century lord of the manor at times. Modern references out of his mouth are consistently unexpected and jarring, as if they do not belong to his character. Similarly, the secret society itself is right out of a British novel, complete with mysterious nicknames, key positions within the society, and its exclusivity. Axton House itself is isolated, as all haunted houses are, and A.’s and Niamh’s forays into an inhabited area rarely mention outside characters. As Uncle Ambrose never sought to update Axton House any more than necessary, it too feels like a relic and out of place in modern society. This ethereal atmosphere is not creepy or frightening; it makes the entire story very dream-like, as if it is all in a reader’s imagination and not something written down on paper. Since dreams are a key theme in The Supernatural Enhancements, it makes sense that the atmosphere of the novel would be similarly eerie and sometimes just plain weird.
The dream element is the crux of the novel, bringing with it the science or science fiction, the fantasy, and even the thriller aspects of the story. However, between the genre mash-up and the unearthly atmosphere, there comes a point in the novel when readers will have to sit back and just go with everything that unfolds. For example, within all the notes and transcripts and security footage, there lie several philosophical and scientific passages about recording dreams directly from the mind. Depending on a reader’s patience level with such scientific discourse, readers can either consider it entirely theoretical and skim over it all or read it in depth and try to determine how it fits into the rest of the story. This is also true of the ending. Readers are certainly able to try to figure out how it is all going to end, but The Supernatural Enhancements is the type of story that is much more satisfactory when one is a passive reader rather than an active one.
The Supernatural Enhancements is very much entertainment for entertainment’s sake. The format and the multiple genres into which it falls make it nearly impossible to take it seriously, and this is perfectly acceptable if not desirable. The characters are so irreverent and yet pompous that they cannot be anything but fictional. Similarly, the story gives off a suppressed mirth vibe to let readers know it is okay to find it silly and implausible. Taking this burden away from the reader allows one to sit back and relax as A. and Niamh hunt for answers and uncover several surprising secrets.
The Supernatural Enhancements is one of those novels that is difficult to categorize and even more difficult to describe. There are elements of a haunted house story, a coming-of-age story, a mystery, a treasure hunt story, a thriller, a spy novel, a science fiction novel, and a fantasy novel within its pages. The format of Mr. Cantero’s story is just as eclectic. It uses everything from letters to transcripts to advertisements to invoices to diary entries security footage to audio recordings to plain, ordinary dialogue. It would be easy to dismiss The Supernatural Enhancements as gimmicky or even suffering from the literary equivalent of multiple personality disorder. However, to do so would be to ignore this fabulous, original, and fun story.
I definitely agree that being a passive reader is necessary to enjoy The Supernatural Enhancements. Once I stopped trying to see how all these arcane details could possibly exist together, and instead just enjoyed the ride with Niamh and A., I suddenly liked the book a whole lot more. (I did love learning about all the cyphers, too, even if they were arguably “gimmicky.” If only I had a bunch of elderly, wealthy friends who wanted to play codes with me in a giant house…)
I am glad you were able to enjoy it! I really liked the story, but I fear too many people got caught up in trying to figure it out or neatly categorize it and therefore could not see it for what it was – pure entertainment.
This definitely looks fun, and very original. Definitely adding it to my TBR. I wonder whether it would be any good in audio?
So much of the novel is visual because it is transcripts and letters. It did work with Where Did You Go, Bernadette? so perhaps it would be okay?
Looks like a fun read. I like that it’s a little different from the other stuff that is out right now.
It was a fun read. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’ve been seeing way too much of the same thing lately, so this was refreshing.
Looking forward to digging into this one today at lunch!
Enjoy! I hope you love it as much as I did!