Title: The Unfamiliar Garden
Series: The Comet Cycle
Author: Benjamin Percy
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
The night the sky fell, Jack and Nora Abernathy’s daughter vanished in the woods. And Mia’s disappearance broke her parents’ already fragile marriage. Unable to solve her own daughter’s case, Nora lost herself in her work as a homicide detective. Jack became a shell of a man; his promising career as a biologist crumbling alongside the meteor strikes that altered weather patterns and caused a massive drought.
It isn’t until five years later that the rains finally return to nourish Seattle. In this period of sudden growth, Jack uncovers evidence of a new parasitic fungus, while Nora investigates several brutal, ritualistic murders. Soon they will be drawn together by a horrifying connection between their discoveries—partnering to fight a deadly contagion as well as the government forces that know the truth about the fate of their daughter.
Award-winning author Benjamin Percy delivers both a gripping science fiction thriller and a dazzling examination of a planet—and a marriage—that have broken.
The Comet Cycle, a three-part look at the effects of a devastating meteor fall, began with the 2021 release of The Ninth Metal (reviewed here). The premise of this trilogy is chilling: A comet passes by earth, close enough that people around the globe gather to celebrate and enjoy the beautiful sight. But… a year later, Earth’s orbit takes the planet through the comet’s debris field, and it’s here that things go terribly wrong.
Earth is inundated with meteors and meteorites, and beyond the immediate destruction of the massive impacts, the biology and chemical makeup of the planet is forever changed.
In The Ninth Metal, we see the effect of the introduction of a strange, never-before-seen metal into the world of humans. Known as omnimetal, this element has strange properties that change the world in terms of huge leaps forward in technology as well as changing the economy, power balances, and in some cases, humans themselves.
In the 2nd book, The Unfamiliar Garden, the action moves from the Minnesota setting of the 1st book to the Seattle and Northwest rainforest area. The main characters are Jack, a professor of biology specializing in mycology, and Nora, Jack’s ex-wife, a neuro-atypical detective with the Seattle PD. Five years earlier, as the meteorites were striking Earth, their 8-year-old daughter Mia disappeared while out in the forest with Jack. No trace was ever found.
Now, after a long drought, rains have returned to the area, and with the rain comes a huge growth spurt for fungi and other plant matter. Also, and maybe not coincidentally, Nora’s department faces a rash of gruesome murders and seemingly ordinary people having sudden psychotic breaks.
As their work overlaps, Jack and Nora have to join forces to try to understand what’s causing this outbreak of violence, and along the way, may finally get answers to the mystery of their daughter’s disappearance.
The Unfamiliar Garden is a fast-paced, tautly-written thriller with sinister government agents, alien organisms, and a wave of bizarre illness and madness. Through Jack and Nora, we see the way the baffling clues start to form patterns, while also getting a sense of the horror of finding oneself in the midst of what’s actually happening.
Without giving too much away, let me just say… fungi = ewwwwww. I’ve now read several books in which fungi in some way or another basically spell the end of human life as we know it, and honestly, it’s terrifying!!
There are some scenes that are pretty gross, so this book may not be for you if you have a weak stomach and a low tolerance for an ick factor.
I found it fascinating, and I loved the relatively short length, which meant that the storytelling stays lean and propulsive throughout. I also love how each book in this trilogy focuses on a different geographic area and a different aspect of the comet’s aftermath.
Book #3, The Sky Vault, will be released in June 2022. I can’t wait!