(NOTE: this review was originally posted on WebFictionGuide)
spooky eldritch shit but without a lot of the bullshit you usually get attached to that, and also good as shit and non-creepy lesbians. go read it.
Katalepsis falls somewhere in-between the genres of urban fantasy and eldritch horror – more of the vibe of the former but the content of the latter, if I had to try and pin it down like that. My first thought for comparison was The Laundry Files by Charles Stross, except, you know. Good.
Heather Morell sees things. Monsters, abominations, fake versions of reality. Diagnosed with severe schizo-affective disorder, she’s struggling through an empty university life, with medication that doesn’t work and horrors she can’t ignore. Right up until she runs into a girl on the street, and starts to figure out that maybe the reason the medications weren’t working is that the things that she’s seeing are actually there.
Right off the bat, it’s important to note that Heather’s misdiagnosis is explicitly that, a misdiagnosis. Sometimes with stories like these, you get a situation where the disability is actually just super special secret magic powers (cough cough Percy Jackson cough cough) which . . . kinda sucks. Thankfully, Katalepsis doesn’t go that route – it’s not trying to say that every schizophrenic person is actually seeing Lovecraftian abominations in the street, but also doesn’t treat Heather like she’s suddenly been ‘cured’ or deserving of more respect or worth as a person because she’s not actually schizophrenic. The issue of disability, both mental and physical, is handled with care and respect, which sadly shouldn’t be as unusual as it is, but is nice regardless.
I don’t usually go for horror, because I’m a big baby, but I didn’t really have much trouble reading Katalepsis. What horror there is is more of the existential sort, not much in terms of gore or body horror, so depending on where you’re at it could be less scary than average or significantly scarier. For me, though, the tone was not the kind of overwhelmingly terrifying nihilism that you usually get with the more eldritch stories – there’s a nice throughline of warmth and humanity throughout the entire story, and a rejection of that kind of attitude at one point that had me punching the air in satisfaction. Heather in particular is someone who has every right to be beaten down and bitter but still manages to be incredibly warm and caring while still having a spine, which I found very endearing.
As mentioned above, all of the primary cast of Katalepsis so far are some form of gay, and that too is handled well. It’s not exclusively a romance, but romance plays a big part in the story, and it’s very cute and authentically-written. Heather is . . . incredibly horny, but it’s not fetishised or treated weirdly. Her relationship with Raine, one of the other protagonists, is also nice in that it’s allowed to veer close to being unhealthy without passing some massive judgement or making it A Thing. When people say ‘let women and queers be messy’, this is what it should mean (as opposed to what it normally means, which is ‘don’t persecute me for being a pedophile’, but that’s a whole other thing). The cast is very small, but delightful charming in almost every aspect, varied in personality and vibes. I’m having trouble picking a favourite, which is unusual for me, but if you put a gun to my head I’d have to go with Evelyn, the shitty, bitchy, haughty mage of the group, but Twil, the chavvy teenage swearwolf, would probably come in a close second.
On the subject of characters, though, the one thing I would say about Katalepsis is that it is a very white story. I’m not entirely sure there’s been a single non-white character in the entire story, and if there has, they were minor enough that I completely missed their appearance. Considering that Katalepsis is very good about other kinds of rep, it’s a bit disappointing. It’s not justification to rain fire down on it from above or anything, but as someone who was otherwise quite catered to by the story, it sucks. Unfortunately, though, getting used to that particular bugbear is something you have to do a lot in the modern media environment, so it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story too much (even though I kind of wish I was spoiled for choice enough that it did).
(EDIT: as of April 2020, there is now at least one major character of colour, as well as a sort of iffy edge case. Said major character is an antagonist and fairly nasty person, though, and the edge case is... complicated. It's not much, but it is progress, I suppose.)
Regardless, Katalepsis is still an excellent story, with lengthy and consistent updates, and definitely worth your time, unless you’re gonna be weird about lesbians in which case go away.