Book Review: Bent Heavens

I read Oliver Twist recently, and this is billed as a sort of retelling or heavily inspired by the Dickens work. I remember Oliver and Company and other Oliver Twist retellings that I’ve enjoyed, so I look forward to investigating this book.

The Book(s)

Bent Heavens
Author: Daniel Kraus
2020
Amazon Link

There’s a bunch of body horror in this one, but that’s not the most “shocking” bit of this: it’s that a lot of the crazy stuff is done by children. If you don’t want to see children making reasonable but really gruesome and evil decisions, this isn’t for you.

While the book is YA, it’s probably not for a younger YA (more high school than middle grade reader). It’s definitely on the more intense end of YA. Also, if you’re a parent who thinks they might want to let their kid read this, I’d strongly suggest getting the kid to read Oliver Twist or an abridged version first. Definitely makes this book more worthwhile from an artistic perspective.

On With the Review!

Though at first this seems YA due to the youth of the characters, this book quickly turns everything around and becomes clearly adult with its dark, sinister plot and disturbing characters. While I loved the sense of dread present throughout the book, I would rather put up front that this book is in no way for everyone.

That being said, I loved this book. Kraus designed a set of believable seniors in high school and gave them typical concerns and societal pressures. He used these societal pressures to force the characters into performing their actions, and the characters responded marvelously. Something I found incredible was how these kids get a new, alien hunting extra curricular, and their school and social lives suffer for it. Olivia Fleming must choose between either avenging her father by pursuing information from an alien, or she can choose cross country. I was stunned by how Kraus led Olivia to make her decision.

Artistically, Bent Heavens was chock full of allusions, and the whole damn thing was an obvious allegory for Oliver Twist. I mean, come on – Olivia, with a dead father, and Oliver? The compass from the father? It was obvious. But Kraus didn’t focus on the nonsense extraneous parts of Oliver Twist, just the good parts I’d have kept if I’d made an abridged version of the Dickens classic.

And now, spoilers.

SPOILERS

Liv Fleming got caught up with her childhood friend, Doug, when Doug’s traps catch an alien. The rural setting and long-term closeness of Doug made it more reasonable that Liv would have kept hanging around that creeper despite his… creeperness. That Liv’s dad liked Doug and taught them both ways to fight the aliens was also sheer genius. Like Dickens did in Oliver Twist, Kraus put together the weird societal pressures of rural Iowa to make something reasonable in the world of the fantastic.

Next, the torture. Oh my God, I did not see the alien torture coming. It made sense once I got there, and the fact that Doug perpetrated it didn’t surprise me at all. He convinced Olivia to join him, reminiscent of Oliver Twist falling prey to criminals, and the insane gorefest just kept going. I do think that this part may have gone on too long or too far, but two kids torturing an alien in a shed in their backyard was something I’ve never seen before. Usually they talk with it, or hide it from the government in a friendly way, or the alien abducts them. Never do they choose to torture it in attempt to get revenge for another dead person.

Now, the super duper SUPER spoilers.

EVEN BIGGER SPOILERS

The alien wasn’t an alien.

By the time the twist was revealed, I kind of knew something wasn’t right and that somehow Liv’s dad wasn’t dead. I actually thought the aliens had turned Liv’s dad into an alien, but I didn’t expect THE GOVERNMENT MADE HIM AN INSANE CANCER MONSTER who thought he was being experimented on by aliens. HOLY EFFING CRAP BATMAN. The sheer madness of the Cold War like villainy and uncaring. The fact that Kraus used society’s racist tendencies to keep the secret a secret. It was amazing.

Once Liv found out that the creature they’d been torturing in her backyard was her dad, she went to save him by killing him and ending all the pain. There was more to it, including a fight with Doug in which Liv sadly became a damsel in distress, but in the end the conspiracy was completed and the story ended pretty similarly to the allegorical Oliver Twist.

Overall, the story was pretty great. Recommend for readers who enjoy suspense horror or dark fantasy/sci fi.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

We’ll see.