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Literature / Father Figure

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"This felt like trying to play Hangman without even knowing the alphabet."

"...truly, the world had gone mad. Perhaps it was fitting that I did too..."

Father Figure is a 2018 urban fantasy/horror novel by Andrew William Clark.

17-year old Joachin Basner has just started his final year in a new high-school in an unsavoury neighborhood, and is relentlessly bullied. That is, until Valerie Rogue and her brother Richard step in and decisively put an end to that.

Joachin is elated to finally have found friends, and completely smitten with Valerie. He barely hesitates to take Richard up on his offer of leaving his aimless life behind and running away with the siblings to find "paradise". However, there is one condition to this offer: Joachin must kill Valerie and Richard’s abusive father.

Plagued by doubt but galvanized by his personal issues with his father and his feelings for Valerie, Joachin ultimately decides to go ahead with the assassination. The subsequent encounter leaves the man’s fate unclear and Joachin doubting his choice more than ever before. Nevertheless, Joachin tells Richard the deed is done.


The three skip town as planned, clandestinely hopping aboard a mysteriously empty passenger train, which carries them to the equally empty yet pristine town of Mill River. It soon becomes clear that they are trapped in Mill River, and that something is very wrong with the place. Though Richard believes that this must be the paradise they had been seeking all along, the three soon find themselves fighting for their lives and, more importantly, their sanity…


This work contains examples of:

  • The '80s: The story takes place in 1988.
  • Abandoned Hospital: Athis (and, subsequently, Richard) hangs out in one.
  • Abusive Parents: Friedrich Kauffmann wasn’t exactly the best father. Deidre’s father even less so.
  • Adult Fear: The prologue, full stop: a father hangs himself and his son in some sort of ritualistic suicide.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Leonard takes Valerie's form to chat with Joachin.
  • Afterlife Express: A manifestation of Joachin's Conductor powers, boarded by the protagonists early on.
  • A God Am I: Richard, after taking possession of Athis.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Joachin’s mother.
  • Alliterative Title
  • Apocalyptic Log: Valerie’s and Karen Evans’ journals.
  • Archnemesis Dad: Joachin has… issues with his father, to say the least.
  • Badass Longcoat: Richard, who wears an 80’s leather version.
  • Back from the Dead: Valerie, though it comes at the price of never being able to return home.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Friedrich Kauffmann's plan to open the Gate and leave for another world has already succeeded by the time the protagonists arrive.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: The final confrontation between Joachin and Richard, which takes place in Richard's “inner world”.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Valerie, toward Richard. One of her main reasons for going along with his search for “paradise” is to keep watching over him.
  • Born of Magic: Athis.
  • Black Magic: The ritual performed to "open the Gate" to the Void, which requires twenty-three human sacrifices to perform. Overlaps with Blood Magic for the ritual used to bring Athis to life.
  • Blood Magic: The ritual performed by Friedrich and Leonard to bring Athis into the world.
  • Body and Host: Lurks can "latch" onto the living like parasites, though they can only assume full control if the host willingly accept their presence.
  • Body Surf: Richard does this after his “death”. In order: he latches on to Valerie, takes over a Bat Legionnaire, possesses Athis, and finally ends up back inside a broken, toy-sized Bat Legionnaire.
  • The Bully: Joachin’s new school is full of these. His father also qualifies to some extent, as does Richard.
  • Camp Unsafe Isn't Safe Anymore: Mill River seems safe enough, if creepy on account of being too pristine. Then the protagonists find a corpse in one of the houses, and everything goes to hell.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Joachin eventually does this to his father.
  • Candlelit Ritual: The underground place of worship where the Order of Atheithius conducted their rituals is lit with candles and torches.
  • Can't Move While Being Watched: Objects in Mill River will only "reset" to their original state when not actively being observed.
  • Carry a Big Stick: Valerie favours a telescopic baton whenever she needs to beat something/someone up.
  • Cast Full of Crazy: There's very few people in Mill River who can be said to be completely in their right mind.
  • Charm Person: Even before becoming a Lurk, Richard had a preternatural ability to "push" people into certain courses of action.
  • Dark World: Mill River, especially after the red moon appears.
  • Daylight Horror: Mill River is bright and sunny, and seems completely untouched except for the missing populace.
  • Dead All Along: Richard. Though he appears to die early in the story, it is later revealed that he was a Lurk (albeit one manifested in physical form) from the very beginning.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Joachin, with Leonard and Richard.
  • Demonic Possession: Leonard's attempt to get Joachin to "accept" him definitely comes across as this.
  • Disappeared Dad: Friedrich Kauffmann.
  • Dissonant Laughter: Richard tends to chuckle at inappropriate moments, especially when trolling Joachin.
  • Dream Land: Mill River can be seen as this for Athis. Furthermore, it exists in the midst of the “Void”, a.k.a. the Collective Human Unconscious.
  • The Disembodied: Lurks.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Athis and the elemental gods.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Friedrich has foreseen this, and the prophesied apocalypse does indeed begin at the very end of the novel.
  • Enemy Mine: Joachin and Leonard eventually join forces against Friedrich's minions.
  • Energy Absorption: Part of what a Conductor's powers can do.
  • Evil Phone: Joachin finds one upon his return to the police station.
  • Existential Horror: Friedrich invokes this, stating that everything in existence is ultimately bound by fate, making free will meaningless.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Richard is convinced that Valerie is the reincarnation of Deidre, his sister from a past life. Valerie turns out to instead be the reincarnation of a First World War soldier.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Six-year-old Athis is, in order: hanged by his father, possessed by Richard, and shot by Joachin. Granted he's technically an Eldritch Abomination, but still...
  • The Fatalist: Friedrich Kauffmann, to the extent that he'll let his own son be murdered in front of him, if such is what "fate has decreed".
  • Fighter, Mage, Thief: Joachin, Richard and Valerie. Valerie and Richard fit the Fighter and Mage archetypes, respectively, while Joachin sort of defaults to the Thief but ultimately becomes more of a Mage. Leonard ends up filling Richard’s spot during the final chapters.
  • Fireballs: Eileen and some of the other Order members can conjure them, to no great effect.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Played with in Valerie and Richard’s case. Initially it seems like Richard is the responsible, level-headed one, with Valerie constantly getting in trouble at school, and having to be bailed out by her brother. Inverted when Richard’s real, homicidal motives are revealed, while Valerie mainly tagged along to keep watching over her little brother.
  • Gate of Truth: The power of Atheiyhius.
  • Genius Bruiser: Valerie can and will kick anyone's ass, but demonstrates a very thoughtful and eloquent side in her journal entries.
  • Genre Shift: The novel’s first half is mostly straight-up horror, whereas the second half is more action/fantasy, with a touch of cosmic horror.
  • Geometric Magic: Most magic requires a drawn circle. Joachin and his father avert this, on account of their Conductor powers.
  • Ghost Town: Mill River.
  • Glamour Failure: While Joachin is in Leonard Evans' house, Leonard initially appears to him as Valerie to deliver some exposition. However, his true appearance — a hanged cadaver — occasionally flickers through when Leonard gets emotional. When Leonard realizes Joachin intends to kill Athis, the glamour falls away entirely.
  • Grew a Spine: Joachin, and how. By the end of the story, he's gone from being relentlessly bullied to single-handedly taking on an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Haunted Heroine: Joachin and Valerie.
  • Hellbent For Leather: Joachin, Valerie and Richard all wear leather jackets.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Hearing a creaking sound in Mill River usually indicates that something bad is about to go down (or at least that the place houses something nasty). Also, both Karen Evans and the Bat Legionnaires announce their presence through ear-piercing, inhuman screeching.
  • Heroic BSoD: Joachin abandons hope and becomes intent on committing suicide immediately after Valerie's apparent demise.
  • Heroic Safe Mode: Joachin, who seems to have become almost entirely fearless during the second half of the novel. As a Conductor, he can split off parts of his soul, and it’s implied he literally left his fear in Mill River.
  • House of Broken Mirrors: Karen Evans' house. The chapter featuring it is even named after this trope.
  • If I Can Only Move: Joachin manages to get Richard/Athis at gunpoint, and is one trigger pull away from ending the nightmare… unfortunately, it turns out that Richard can now invade Joachin’s mind and control/stop his movements...
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Joachin, while dying from internal bleeding.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: Joachinthanks to obtaining Leonard's fencing abilities is able to proficiently use a sword. However, said sword is described as "a mix between a knightly sword and a grossly oversized, double-edged kitchen knife"; which is a far cry from the thin, light foil or epee normally used in fencing.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Joachin manages to shoot a rapidly-moving, action-figure-sized target. In a darkened passage. With a small handgun. Partly justified in that his senses were amplified by magic at the time.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Valerie does this on Joachin when she suspects he killed Richard, and wants him to confess.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Do NOT mess with or disrespect Richard if you don’t want Valerie to beat you to a bloody pulp.
  • Laughing Mad: Joachin falls into this a couple times.
  • Let Me at Him!: Valerie tries to kill Richard once he's revealed his true colours, but is held back by Joachin.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Joachin's infatuation with Valerie is... unhealthy, to say the least.
  • Magic Enhancement: The Prayer to the Elements, which serves to “fortify the body and mind”, and is potent enough to not only bring Joachin back from the brink of death, but also allow him to fight Richard’s superpowered demon body on an equal footing.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Richard laughs off being stabbed in the chest. Justified on account of him already being dead.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Both Richard and Friedrich are very good at getting into people’s heads.
  • Mind Rape: Richard does this to Valerie after bringing her Back from the Dead.
  • More Than Mind Control: Richard pulls this off on Joachin in the opening chapters.
  • The Musketeer: Joachin knows his guns and due to Leonard's influence eventually becomes quite adept with a sword.
  • Must Be Invited: Played with; while a Lurk must indeed be willingly accepted by its host to assume full control, they need no such invitation to simply "latch" on to someone.
  • The Man in the Mirror Talks Back: And shoots himself in the head.
  • Mental World: Everyone has an “inner world”. Joachin and Leonard eventually enter Richard's.
  • Men Use Violence, Women Use Communication: Subverted big time with Valerie and Richard. Valerie tends to resort to violence for most every problem, whereas Richard relies on his wits, and More Than Mind Control.
  • Murderous Mannequin: Friedrich Kauffmann has turned his followers (and part of himself) into these.
  • Mysterious Parent: Kauffmann, who apparently abandoned his family to start a magic cult and attempt to save humanity from the impending apocalypse.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Richard's nickname, "Slayer".
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Joachin tends to discover a new ability whenever one is needed to escape the current predicament.
  • Nice Day, Deadly Night: Not that daytime in Mill River was all that reassuring, but things take a seriously dark turn once “night” falls.
  • Nightmare Face: Karen Evans. Leonard Evans' "real" face is... not pretty either.
  • Noodle Incident: When Richard (in Athis’ body) tries to prove to Valerie that he really is her brother, he refers to… something he and Valerie did when they were younger. Exactly what happened is never revealed, but said incident is apparently very embarrassing, and Richard even quips that he may have to kill Joachin after he’s heard that.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Joachin accumulates a number of injuries in Mill River, but keeps on going. Averted toward the end, when he is revealed to actually be dying from internal bleeding and needs to be saved with magic.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Lurks, possessing spirits which come into being as a result of a ritual suicide.
  • Our Mages Are Different: It seems like anyone can do magic with the required circle and incantations, however there are also a select few “Conductors”, who can channel spirits and don’t require any external support for their magic.
  • Past-Life Memories: Richard seeks revenge for what their father did to his sister in a past life. Through his influence, Valerie also starts to remember her past life as a soldier during the First World War.
  • Personal Horror: Some of the horror in Mill River stems mostly from the characters' personal issues, as opposed to anything supernatural.
  • Powers via Possession: Lurks "imprint" onto their host (and vice-versa), transferring some of their powers in the process. This is how Joachin becomes adept with the sword, how Valerie starts remembering her past life, and how Richard still has the power of Atheiyhius even after Athis is freed from his possession.
  • Psychological Horror: In spades, especially in the book’s first half: upon arriving in Mill River, Joachin and Valerie both fear they are going insane (and are paranoid about each other going insane, which doesn’t help things one bit).
  • Psychological Torment Zone: Exhibit Hall B of the Mill River Historical Museum. It taps into Joachin and Valerie's guilt in order to manifest apparitions that torment and ultimately try to kill the two of them. The evidence room at the police station may also qualify.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Richard has existed for nearly a century and effectively become a god, yet still mostly thinks and acts like a teenager.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Joachin has confronted his father and Richard and taken ownership of his destiny, but he's lost Valerie, and now has to face the apocalypse prophesied by his father. Not to mention, both his father and Richard are still presumably out there somewhere.
  • Reincarnation
  • Ritual Magic: Magic requires circles and incantations.
  • Sanity Slippage: All of the protagonists suffer from this to some extent. Joachin exhibits signs from the moment he agrees to assassinate Richard and Valerie's father, and Valerie gets it pretty bad after Richard’s (apparent) death. Richard seems the most levelheaded of the group, but it is eventually revealed that he’d gone down the deep end before the story had even begun.
  • Shield Bash: Valerie does this with a riot shield.
  • Slasher Smile: Richard tends to sport those whenever he’s trolling Joachin.
  • Smug Snake: Richard, all the way.
  • Spooky Photographs: Joachin finds one in the police station lounge.
  • Summoning Ritual: Employed by Friedrich and Leonard to bring Athis into the world.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Richard is unceremoniously crushed to death. Or so it seems...
  • Surreal Horror: Joachin's return trip to the police station, where he converses with (what is assumed to be) a demented Lurk on the phone, gets a key faxed to him, and sees his reflection kill itself in a mirror. Though that last event is later hinted to be Joachin having split off part of his soul, exactly what the hell was going on in that station is never fully explained.
  • Symbiotic Possession: Joachin and Leonard's relationship eventually becomes this.
  • Talkative Loon: The Police station Lurk.
  • Tarot Motifs: Magic rituals prominently feature tarot cards. Furthermore, each character is associated with a specific card: Joachin is the Fool, Valerie is the Knight of Rods, Richard is the Devil, Leonard is the Hanged Man, and Friedrich is the Magician.
  • The Teetotaler: Richard, who, in his own words, "prefers to retain full control of his faculties". Being a Lurk might have something to do with it, too.
  • Telepathy: Richard gains this via the power of Atheiyhius: tapping into the power of the Collective Human Unconscious allows for telepathic communication, as well as the forceful control of people’s movements.
  • Thought-Controlled Power: Conductor powers function mostly through focus; as opposed to other mages, Conductors don’t require incantations or circles to use magic.
  • Tomboy: Valerie.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The real town of Mill River, which hosts the Order of Atheiyhius.
  • Troll: Richard and, to an even greater extent, the "illusion" version of him in the Mill River Museum.
  • Unholy Ground: The "ancient place of worship" near Friedrich's cabin.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Valerie, when she destroys Metal Man.
  • World of No Grandparents: Except for Joachin's paternal grandfather being briefly mentioned and Karen Evans being grandmother to Athis, grandparents are completely absent.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Joachin is unable to bring Valerie back, and his father's vision of the apocalypse turns out to be accurate after all.

"Give me a body of stout Earth, that it may endure through the ages. Give me a soul of blazing Fire, that it may burn through adversity. Let Water flow alongside the stream of my will, and Wind soar with the current of my dreams. And above all else, may the Light show me the Path through the eternal darkness of the Void."


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