Eye of a Little God

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Pub Date 02 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 31 Dec 2023

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The Painted Man is here. I feel him in the darkness. He says, "If you let me in, I'll make the pain stop." God help me, I want to let him.

After losing his delivery job – the last thing binding him to an empty life - Eddie Luther, veteran and drifter, drives into the snowy woods with a bottle of sleeping pills. But instead of eternal silence, Eddie hears a whisper inside his damaged ear.

Help me.

He follows the call and finds a cryptic journal filled with loneliness and longing, a journal whose words seem written for him alone. Guided by the clues in its pages, he embarks on a journey into a shadowy world beneath the small town of Devil's Fork, Nebraska – a world where girls become cats, televisions whisper prophecies, and only those cast out of society can see and use magic . . .

Or maybe Eddie's sanity is slipping. All he knows for sure is that he's falling in love with someone he's never seen, someone who may be more than human – and who will change everything he thinks he knows about the world and his place in it.

The Painted Man is here. I feel him in the darkness. He says, "If you let me in, I'll make the pain stop." God help me, I want to let him.

After losing his delivery job – the last thing binding him to...

Advance Praise

“An imaginative, thrilling page-turner”
Kirkus Reviews on Cathedral of Bones

“Action from first to last page will invigorate the brain waves of dystopian-fiction fans”
Booklist on Mindwalker

“An imaginative, thrilling page-turner”
Kirkus Reviews on Cathedral of Bones

“Action from first to last page will invigorate the brain waves of dystopian-fiction fans”
Booklist on Mindwalker

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ISBN 9781448312146
PRICE $29.99 (USD)

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Average rating from 43 members

Featured Reviews

Intriguing twist on modern horror tropes with plenty of suspense and a meditation on grief and loss. I loved the 'message in a bottle' style device which drives the story. This was utterly compelling, Great if you want something a bit different.

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Interesting is the word I would use to describe this book. I really had no idea what I was going into when I started reading, and the story I read was heartwarming. I will say, I did find the depictions of both Lou and Eddie’s behavior concerning when it comes to women; but this is also a story of moving on and becoming who you’re supposed to be. Overall, I’ll keep an eye out for other A.J. Steiger books!

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What a book. Wow. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but it became one of my favourite books I’ve read this year.

In the best way possible, this book is weird. It’s strange and it’s confusing and I spent most of the time reading it trying to thread together things that never really seemed to fit - and then somehow, it all came together in the end.

Beyond the strangeness, this book is a wonderful ode to loneliness, and outsiders, and different types of grief. The characters are so deeply complex, Eddie in particular is a difficult man to understand, but one I grew to have so much affection for.

I truly cannot recommend this book enough. An absolute mastery of horror that somehow left me feeling soft and warm by the end.

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Eddie Luther has been drifting his entire life, feeling unreal and empty. Enlisting was his one shot at finding purpose, but all Vietnam did was leave him emptier, hopeless, and alone. Now he’s slipping—sleepless nights, losing time, and twisted nascent thoughts that sometimes birth frightening words. When he gets fired from his latest job during the holiday season, Eddie realizes he’s tired of struggling to stay alive. Filled with a sense of peace and inevitability, he turns down a dark road into the woods to take the pain pills he’s kept for just such an occasion. Before he can end it, however, the words “Help me” sizzle through Eddie’s damaged ear, and he runs out into the night where he sees a flash of red as a woman flees. Picking up her discarded notebook, the images and words inside show Eddie his destiny—here is his raison d’être, here is the woman he has been put on this earth to save and protect.

As Eddie tries to divine clues from the nightmarish imagery and words within the notebook that seem pulled from his darkest depths, his search leads him to Lou Frye, another invisible lost soul who speaks to Eddie’s own desperate loneliness. Convinced Lou knows more than he claims about the mysterious woman, Eddie tries to draw Lou from his shell and ends up forming a friendship. However, as the mystery leads him down a rabbit hole of magic and fantasy, Eddie becomes more determined to give his very soul to save the woman in the red dress. Will his attempts to save her unleash the violence within and destroy them both?

Eye of a Little God is a meditation on loneliness, depression, and finding a flicker of hope in the darkness. The story is steeped in ambiguity, including how it’s marketed. Though billed as queer, that label is doing a lot of heavy lifting. All queer representation is at the end and open to interpretation. For example, Eddie and Lou’s friendship is platonic, so it’s equally plausible to interpret Eddie’s declaration of love (especially given its circumstances) as a continuation of their friendship or the potential for romance. Additionally, the story is not a flawed hero’s journey via horror, it’s via mystery with a few horror elements, such as disturbing art and socially horrific behavior. However, these components are effective in evoking a firm and ominous sense of place, even in moments of disorientation.

The people of Devil’s Fork are all hanging on the edge in one way or another, even those with some ties to humanity. Most of the characters are steeped in inner demons fostered by isolation and handle their turmoil in many ways—from erasing themselves, to becoming living ghosts and “befriending” demons. There is witchcraft, demons, and magic fueled by loneliness. Or is there? Eye is a blend of surrealism, magical realism, and fantasy and the writing creates a melancholic atmosphere filled with shredded and deteriorating souls in a grasping search for freedom and meaning. The story follows Eddie, a man who’s as forgotten and shambling towards ruin as the small town he’s drawn to. After years of finding illusions of purpose that end in disaster, he’s ready to end it all and what better place than the dying Devil’s Fork? However, whimpers of pain and a woman in a red dress fleeing begin his journey down the rabbit hole.

Growing up, Eddie was an outsider, unable to make friends, as if people could sense his hollowness and preoccupation with death. Unlike many kids shunned by their peers, Eddie’s quietness contained violence at its core that erupts more easily after his time in Vietnam. Eddie has the urge to protect, but this urge tips easily into obsession. His mystery woman trips all his protective instincts and keeps his rage bubbling at anyone he feels is a threat to her or his mission to save her. The woman’s notebook is “like Cinderella losing her slipper on the glass stairs” and sends Eddie on his quest through the kingdom to find his soulmate. The signs and visions he experiences and the notebook entries that speak of love and violence knotted together tell him that she is the purpose he has sought all his life. He flings himself headlong into this belief and refuses to let go despite questioning his sanity and looking his dangerously compulsive nature and compromised motives straight in the eye.

When Eddie meets Lou, a quivering rabbit of a man, he knows Lou is hiding something. However, he has to curb his frustration and hair-trigger anger to get Lou to give him information. At first, Lou is an obstacle and a means to an end, but the reflections of himself Eddie sees in Lou foster a sense of camaraderie and understanding as they stumbles into friendship. Lou is all awkward angles and uncertainty, covered in a protective armor that keeps his tangled pieces in more than others out. In appearance, he’s the epitome of the creepy predator, but in reality, he’s the ultimate prey—so stomped down by life and his inner demons that he has permanent boot prints meshed into his skin and no real sense of self. Like Eddie, Lou grew up feeling untethered and alone, but unlike Eddie, Lou had no rage to keep himself safe. His meekness makes him a target of many, including Eddie.

In several small ways, they start keeping one another from drowning. Both men crave human connection and something to fill the void, so much that when a woman showed them kindness, their need for that sliver of warmth, that spark of life led them to a panicky, selfish attachment and eventual stalking—only the women’s fear finally breaking through to them. They are full of self-loathing (when they can feel anything at all) and have cracks in their psyche that leave them vulnerable to the bleakest parts of themselves. Each man is seeking salvation, to be remade into a complete human being instead of a human-shaped abyss, and they learn that though they may not be able to kill their demons or the depression that has sunk so deep it feels grafted onto their bones, they can defang it for a time with their connection.

As mentioned before, the writing does a great job creating atmosphere and conveying the all-encompassing nature of loneliness and how it mingles with violence and despair, so much so that loneliness itself a character. However, this constant evocation of loneliness creates an ouroboros of allusions and mediations and soliloquies. There is only so much ‘outsider looking forlornly at humanity like a street urchin with their face pressed to the glass of a sweets shop’ that a story can handle. As a slow-paced mystery, it’s important to keep the reader engaged, but as it was easy to see where the story is headed early on (for me) and the pacing lags in places, the lamentations slow the pace even more and lose their impact. That being said, the climax is tightly coiled tension, tinged with an air of violent release and aching tenderness. It also perfectly breaks the story’s despondent, cultural version of nihilism with the more positive, active existential nihilism that finds meaning in the senseless of the universe.

Pretty much all aspects are open to interpretation. Did Eddie actually die in his car? Is he dreaming in a coma? Are all, none, or some of his adventures in Wonderland real? All that matters is that Eddie finds home and a true purpose. Though not quite what I expected, I enjoyed this tale of broken people taking a mystical journey to find real connection.

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I thought this book was very original & creative. It’s definitely one of a kind. I’ve never read a book like it.

I did find it a bit confusing at times, simply because I wasn’t sure where some things fit in, and what some things meant or had to do with the story itself. I do feel some things had no meaning to the story, and were just there for “fluff”, while others made complete sense by the end of the story. It all came together by the end.

Our MC Eddie was a sort of “protector” of sorts I felt like, and deemed himself that. It was a wild ride seeing him progress through this journey of finding this unknown person who he felt he was supposed to protect.

This story had magic, devils, demons, and a whole lot more thrown in that I just was not expecting that was a pretty pleasant surprise.

I did find the writing a bit.. odd? But, it didn’t take away from the story in the least bit for me. Just something I wasn’t used to. I enjoyed a refreshing new writing style to me.

The story itself had me on the edge of my seat, trying to figure out what was going to happen next in the story. I felt so much sympathy for Eddie, Lou, and even Carrie. By the end of the story, I loved all of them.

All in all, I believe this book is worth the read. It’s a great story, creative, compelling, and highly original.

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This book was unlike anything I've read and truly surpassed expectations. The description doesn't begin to cover the wild ride that is Eye of a Little God. This was a fever dream with moments of true horror - when a book can be gross and haunting and unsettling and lit fic all at once, it's a fantastic trip.

Eddie is a creepy main character - a bit unreliable, off-putting. And so is everyone he meets. His past haunts him and so does the girl in the red dress he thinks he sees in the woods. I won't go into any detail to stay spoiler-free but his quest to find and help this girl takes him on journey that reveals more about the world and himself than he could've ever imagined. There is magic, there is human connection, there is fear and blood and emotional baggage. There are demons inside and out. And making Eddie a Vietnam vet adds an intense layer throughout that was very well done.

I really enjoyed this read - it was addicting. It had a slower start, but the pacing worked well. You were sucked into Eddie's investigation and lose yourself in this other world the way he did. And the writing itself was excellent. There was a simplicity mixed with a poetry that worked so well in the genre, and it really made those horrific moments pop. I look forward to reading more A.J. Steiger!

Thank you to NetGalley & Severn House for my ARC!

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Thank you to NetGalley for providing a review copy.
Oh, this book. I devoured it. The blurb makes it sound like this will be a dark Fantasy, possibly some magical realism, a journey into an unknown place. But that does it a disservice, because if that's what you're expecting, you'll be disappointed. Eye of a Little God is one long fever dream, slightly rotten, oh so sweet. Seriously, the book was so very sweet for a book about loneliness, aloneness, obsession. It was beautiful and I loved it. Strong 5 stars.

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This book is a horrifically magical experience, and inundated me with a voracious hunger, one that urged me to finish it quickly and left me sitting there, wondering if I could have some more. The characters were incredibly well-developed, and I had a special soft spot for the portrayals of Lou and Carrie as people who became looped into this strange surreal world--whether by choice or by accident--and struggled upon the threshold between their lives and the one that lured them. The descriptions were lush and eerie, and fully enveloped me into this story, so much so that I almost felt I was part of it. The book is saturated with mystery, and I especially loved the introduction of Christina and how she played into the wider story--and how the author described the emptiness of her and others who are chosen by the Painted Man was absolutely chilling. I somehow deduced the plot twist about Noelle beforehand, but its revelation was still absolutely moving for me. This is a very beautiful literary experiment in grief, loss, and suicidal ideation, and though the characters were left off in a comparatively better place than where they began, I was still left yearning for more of their world.

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A huge thank you to the author, NetGalley, and Severn House for providing this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

TW: Suicide, mental health, medical institutionalization, stalking, sexual assault (not heavily explicit), transphobia, gore (mild), war, PTSD, animal torture/death (mild)

This is a beautifully written literary horror novel that tackles trauma, loneliness, and human connections - and how not being alone and finding these connections can be the way to actively combat the demons haunting you. In this novel, even until the last page you won’t be entirely sure what is reality and what is an unreliable narrator - and yet, the story will still suck you in until the last page. I thought Eddie was a fascinating main character, as he was broken, traumatized, and in many aspects not the “hero” he strived to be. He self-admits to being drawn to broken people who need his protection - regardless if they truly need him at all. However, his flaws make him a realistic protagonist, and as the story progresses and his investigation leads him further and further into the grim underbelly of reality, we want him to succeed. .

Many reviews mention the blurb being misleading, and I agree with them - mostly. I would say that everything that happens in the blurb description is true, but this novel uses them more as a storytelling device to explore the trauma and mistakes Eddie has made in his life. I would take the blurb with a grain of salt, as this story would not fit under fantasy-horror in my opinion, and the use of magic is more of a background to the surrounding events. The magic and the Painted Man are less aspects of the world, but rather a way to show how trauma can haunt and “possess” you - to the point that eventually you feel it’s better to give in to these darker desires than fight to live another day. Even as we begin to understand who, or what, the Painted Man is, we’re never really certain if the events described in this book really occurred - or if they are how the traumatized people in this novel interpret them.

A great deal of this novel is a form of inner monologue for Eddie as he goes about his life, and starts to slowly lose his grip on his life after his trauma from the Vietnam war. He has hearing and memory issues, and trouble connecting with people on a personal basis - which is the catalyst for him losing his job at the beginning of the novel. Losing the one thing he had going for him, and being estranged from his parents and an ex-girlfriend, he decides he isn’t much use to anyone and wants to take himself out of the equation entirely.

However, he is interrupted before he can take more than a few pills by a gunshot from the woods nearby. Deciding to investigate, he sees a woman in a red dress running away - sounding distressed - and finds a notebook on the ground that seems to have been hers. At this point in the novel, a second POV begins with the voice of the woman in her notebook as she writes down her thoughts. As Eddie reads further into the notebook, he believes he has some kind of connection to this woman and is compelled to save her - becoming almost an obsession for him.

This is also interesting, because we spend a great deal of the novel unsure if these events actually occurred as we (as Eddie) experienced them, since he was heavily under the influence at the time. This unreality only becomes stronger the further we investigate into the journal, and the deeper Eddie’s investigation goes. As he continues, he meets two pivotal characters that know more about this mysterious woman than they will tell him - Carrie and Lou. Through becoming closer to Lou, and talking with Carrie, Eddie is unintentionally pulled further into the unknown world of magic both operate in - and both warn him of escaping before it’s too late.

A large focus on this novel is on both of the main male characters - Eddie and Lou - as having had previous instances of stalking women. It’s honestly a testament to how well this novel is written to make both sympathetic characters who the reader will root for - even while even the characters themselves acknowledge that their past behavior was unacceptable. I thought this novel did very well to play into the stereotypes of the quintessential “stalker” - one is a shy, soft spoken man with a stutter who becomes attached to anyone showing him kindness, and the other is a dishonorably discharged traumatized war vet believing his girlfriend still needs him around. In any other novel, these characters would be one-dimensional villains - but in this one, they are sympathetic protagonists who have made mistakes in their past..

I found Lou in particular to be an interesting examination of the “stalker” stereotype. His hair is sometimes not in great condition, he likes to watch movies more geared towards children, he becomes attached to anyone who shows him kindness to the point that it leads to him stalking this person. On top of all that, he also has a severe stutter and likes to give off the idea that he isn’t intelligent, to make his life easier. And yet, Eddie is drawn to him to learn more - even when Lou refuses to give him any information on the mysterious woman he is trying to find. As these two traumatized men, who have issues fitting into regular society, come together to find friendship - they learn how to rely on one another and find strength in their bond. I really enjoyed their dynamic, and how they gained strength from each other to help curb their more pronounced issues (Lou with being shy and differential, and Eddie with anger issues). They in a way protect each other, and through their relationship both grow as people to learn how to move forward in the world and their lives.

I’ve seen multiple people question the lgbt/queer label on this novel, and spoil it by saying it only occurs at the very end of the book, and personally I’d disagree with that. HOWEVER, without giving any spoilers, I will say the only difference between the end and the rest of the novel is how explicit the representation given is. There is no surprise to how the events at the end unfold, and once we finally learn all the clues to putting all the pieces together on the mystery woman's identity, they all fit together perfectly. My only surprise at the “reveal” was how well it was done and how perfectly it tied the preceding events together. I think I would enjoy this novel on a reread, knowing the reveal, to be able to see all the hints I might have missed before.

I would suggest this novel to anyone who likes horror, but who wants the horror to be the device to tell the story of the characters and their motivations. This would not be a good fit for anyone wanting a straightforward dark fantasy horror, as this book heavily focuses on the thoughts and relationships surrounding the main character Eddie, as opposed to the magic in this world. I would describe this more as a literary horror novel, which examines the stereotypes people fit into, and how by opening up to one another we can learn to live and grow past them.

Spoilers beyond this point.

I keep seeing reviews spoiling the ending for this book and claiming the character of Lou is transmisogynistic, and that Eddie’s response is ALSO transmisogynistic. This isn’t true. The REASON Eddie has issues with the demon only referring to Lou as Nicole and “she” and a “woman” is because LOU THEMSELVES says that he doesn’t feel entirely like a woman, and if he was born as a girl he STILL wouldn’t see himself as a woman. Lou is nonbinary. And it’s honestly SUPER disheartening to see SO MANY people just decide that a nonbinary person in the 80s, who doesn't have access to the words and lingo we use today, is transmisogynistic. Eddie himself asks Lou if he’d prefer to be called a woman named Nicole, and LOU says no. Nicole is a PART of her identity, but not the ENTIRE THING. And after this point Eddie switches between he and she when referring to Lou. The REASON that it’s wrong that “Nicole” only comes out entirely as a woman when she’s possessed by a demon, is BECAUSE she’s not ONLY a woman named Nicole, she’s also a man named Lou, and a person who doesn’t solely identify as either gender.

Stop saying this is transmisogynistic, you’re being enbyphobic by claiming that Lou HAS to be a woman - DESPITE THE CHARACTER THEMSELVES saying they’re not. This book does absolutely NOT do the “man in the dress” gag (y’all do realize it’s only transmisogynistic when it’s a joke, right? Men can wear dresses, but I guess if you can’t understand people who don’t fit in the gender binary you might not be able to see that.)

Eddie uses the phrase “man-woman” to describe Lou BECAUSE THIS IS THE 80S AND NEITHER KNOWS THE TERM NONBINARY. I had to come back to edit my review because of this nonsense. The book clearly has Eddie ask Lou his preferences in how Eddie should refer to her, AND it’s obvious that Eddie accepts EVERY PART of Lou/Nicole - including them not solely identifying as a woman. If that were to ever change, Eddie would support her. But as of now, Lou EXPLICITLY states that they don’t think they’d be comfortable only being a woman if they were born in another gender.

Nonbinary people exist. Not everyone fits into the gender binary and seeing one (1) character do that doesn’t make it transmisogynistic, you’re just being transphobic. Thanks.

Initial thoughts after finishing this book:

HOLY SHIT. I have so many thoughts. I loved this. This blew me away so much I was not expecting it at ALL. Am I still a person after reading this? Are any of us????

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This book defies easy categorization, blending elements I adore, yet leaving me with a complex mix of emotions. The uncertainty I felt while reading proves intriguing – a potential positive aspect. The summary, in my opinion, falls short of capturing the depth of the book, as unexpected elements unfolded beyond what was initially hinted. Above all, the representation within the story resonated with me, adding to the overall enjoyment.

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