REVIEW: Mushroom Blues by Adrian M. Gibson

Last Updated on March 21, 2024

Adrian M. Gibson completely breaks the mold of conventional storytelling in Mushroom Blues, a wonderfully weird, darkly disturbing and freakishly fungal sci-fantasy noir debut that is more dangerously addictive than any drug imaginable.

Mushroom BluesIn many ways, the start of this novel reminded me of the start to Krystle Matar’s Legacy of the Brightwash, except make it a lot more fungal. Both stories open with a curmudgeonly, angry, and deeply flawed officer of the law making the horrifying discovery of a young child’s mutilated body, which then sucks them into a chaotic murder investigation that ends up challenging them not only physically, but especially on a mental, moral, emotional, and spiritual level.

From the very first page, Hofmann’s intimate first person narration completely sucked me in, and I quickly started rooting for her while also being horrified by her racist and prejudiced beliefs and worldviews. I am almost ashamed to admit that I initially found myself getting slightly infected by her revulsion of all things fungal, which just goes to show how incredibly strong and effective Gibson’s character work is.

Though her biased view of the mushroom people and their culture is exactly what made her such a complex and compelling protagonist, and I loved experiencing the fantastically fungal city of Neo Kinoko through her outsider’s perspective. As her worldviews started to be challenged by her first-hand experiences, I soon found myself utterly fascinated with the hidden beauty of the fungal people’s way of life.

Gibson simply establishes this vibrant and immersive world with masterful talent, breathing so much life into the city and its people, while also dropping in just enough spores (pun indeed intended) to make the wider world feel tangible and unfold in the most organic way possible. Moreover, I really enjoyed the Japanese influences in the creation of Neo Kinoko, as those more familiar aspects actually helped ground me amidst all the bewildering fungal world building going on in Mushroom Blues.

There’s so much richness and authenticity to the culture of the fungal people, from the language, to the food, to the religion, and to all the uniquely quirky customs and beliefs. And don’t get me started on their interesting sense of community and way of communication through the fungal network, which just has to be one of the most imaginative takes on a soft magic system I have ever come across.

Though, what I appreciated most about the establishment of this group of people, is the fact that they are not presented as a monolith. Through Hofmann’s interactions with all kinds of different fungal people, the staggering nuance and complexity of their community really starts to shine through. I was personally especially surprised by the beautifully complex dynamic that developed between Hofmann and her reluctantly assigned partner, the fungal cop Koji (who needs to be protected at all costs, thank you very much).

It is just truly beyond me how Gibson managed to tell a story that is so utterly alien, yet tragically and beautifully human at the same time. On top of the broader themes of colonisation, corruption, sexism, and oppression, Mushroom Blues also tackles much more intimately vulnerable topics of grief, regret, trauma, motherhood, forgiveness, redemption, and healing. Yet at no point does the tone of the story ever become preachy, as these themes are all masterfully woven into Hofmann’s tumultuous character arc that we get to experience from the front-row seat.

Now, there’s no denying that Mushroom Blues is a confronting and uncomfortable reading experience at times, but at the same time it also has an addictively high entertainment factor. By using all the best tropes and the tight plotting of the crime detective genre, Gibson is able to maintain an intoxicating air of mystery while this story throttles along at full speed. An entertaining buddy cop dynamic, believably depraved baddies who you can love to hate, thrilling car chases, confounding murder boards, dangerous gunfights, tense interrogations, and, of course, some psychedelic madness; Mushroom Blues has got it all.

There were maybe a few moments where some revelations or shifts in attitude felt a tiny bit rushed, especially when characters reminded themselves of the fact that all these crazy events had taken place over a mere couple of days. That said, the way that all the seemingly separate elements and threads of the story ultimately interweave is nothing short of masterful, resulting in an anxiety-inducing climax sequence that hits all the right emotional beats and just hurts so damn good.

Safe to say, I have been infected with the mushroom madness, and I am now hungering for more in the best way possible. This story blew all my expectations completely out of the water, and how Gibson thought it was acceptable to write a debut of this insanely high quality will forever be the true mystery to me.

If you like the sound of a dark, fast-paced, and highly imaginative fungalpunk noir story that will take you on a brutally wild emotional rollercoaster, then don’t hesitate to enter the Fungalverse and pick up Mushroom Blues now!

Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.