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Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison

In Rachel Harrison’s “Black Sheep,” a darkly comedic and hyperbolic horror novel, the prodigal daughter of a cult finds herself navigating toxic friendships, trauma, and complicated family dynamics with a touch of macabre comedy. Vesper, the main character, escapes her narcissistic mother and returns to her family’s compound for her cousin’s wedding. While the book starts off strong, it loses momentum halfway through, but still keeps readers engaged with sardonic quips and unexpected twists. With a complicated but relatable protagonist, “Black Sheep” explores themes of longing for family, personal growth, and the difficult journey of confronting a toxic past.

Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison

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Black Sheep is a horror novel written by Rachel Harrison. It was published by Berkley on September 19, 2023. The novel falls under the genres of horror and LGBTQIA. Harrison’s novels often explore themes of toxic friendships, trauma, and complicated family dynamics, combining them with dark comedy. Black Sheep follows the story of Vesper, a young woman who returns to her family’s cult compound after receiving an invitation to her cousin’s wedding. The novel delves into Vesper’s background, the complicated dynamics within her family, and her motivations for leaving. It also explores themes such as toxic friendships, trauma, mother-daughter relationships, and rebuilding and reconciliation. Narrated in a sardonic and darkly humorous style, Black Sheep has received both praise and criticism for its momentum, conflicts, and character development.

Plot Summary

Protagonist’s Background: Vesper left her family’s cult compound six years ago and has been struggling to find her place since then. She works as a waitress and has never been able to make lasting friendships. After losing her job, Vesper begins to feel homesick.

Invitation to Return: Vesper receives an anonymous red envelope inviting her back to the cult compound to celebrate her cousin Rosemary’s wedding to Vesper’s ex-boyfriend Brody. Despite her reservations, Vesper decides to accept the invitation.

Complicated Family Dynamics: While most of the community welcomes Vesper’s return, her mother, Constance Wright, remains distant and cold. Vesper’s mother has been absent for most of her life, either due to her acting career or her harsh treatment of Vesper. Vesper’s father is also absent, and she hopes to reconnect with him.

Vesper’s Motivation for Leaving: Vesper left the cult to find her father and escape her mother’s emotional and physical abuse. She always suspected that her father was an outsider to the cult and was shunned as a result.

Vesper’s Characterization: Vesper is portrayed as a complicated and unlikable character. She is often petty, mean, and filled with resentment. However, certain aspects of Vesper’s personality, such as her difficulty forming attachments, resonate with readers who have experienced similar family dynamics and trauma.

Conflict and Tension: The first half of the book is filled with tension as more information about Vesper’s past and upbringing is revealed. However, instead of gaining agency and confronting her family’s manipulation, Vesper finds herself falling back into their toxic cycle. This lack of resolution and cathartic confrontation is a point of criticism for some readers.

Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison

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Analysis of Themes

Toxic Friendships: The novel explores the theme of toxic friendships through Vesper’s struggle to form lasting connections. Her coworkers perceive her as snobby and pretentious, contributing to her feelings of isolation.

Trauma: Vesper’s background is shaped by trauma, including emotional and physical abuse from her mother, religious trauma from the cult, and an absent father figure. The novel delves into the long-lasting effects of trauma on the protagonist’s life.

Complicated Family Dynamics: Black Sheep extensively explores the complicated dynamics within Vesper’s family. Her mother’s absence and harsh treatment, her father’s absence, and the sense of belonging and isolation within the cult all contribute to the complex relationships portrayed in the novel.

Mother-Daughter Relationships: The strained relationship between Vesper and her mother, Constance, is a central focus of the story. The novel delves into the impact of Constance’s actions on Vesper’s life and her desire for reconciliation and understanding.

Rebuilding and Reconciliation: As Vesper returns to her family’s compound, the novel explores the themes of rebuilding and reconciliation. It highlights Vesper’s hopes for reconnecting with her father and finding closure within her family relationships.

Character Study

Vesper: Vesper is the protagonist of the novel. She is portrayed as an unlikable character, filled with resentment and bitterness. However, readers may also identify with her struggles and traumatic experiences.

Constance: Constance Wright is Vesper’s mother and a famous actress. She is characterized as icy and distant, often deriding and humiliating her daughter. Constance’s strained relationship with Vesper is a significant source of tension in the novel.

Rosemary: Rosemary is Vesper’s cousin and is getting married to Vesper’s ex-boyfriend Brody. Her wedding serves as the catalyst for Vesper’s return to the cult compound.

Other Supporting Characters: The novel features various supporting characters within the cult community, each with their own motivations and dynamics with Vesper.

Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison

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Narrative Style

Dark Comedy: Black Sheep employs dark comedy as a narrative style. The novel blends humor with horror elements, offering a satirical commentary on toxic relationships and family dynamics.

Sardonic Quips: The narrative is filled with sardonic and witty quips, contributing to the darkly humorous tone of the novel. These quips add levity to the story and provide moments of comic relief.

Macabre Humor: The novel also incorporates macabre humor, highlighting the absurdity of certain situations and adding to the overall atmosphere of the story. This combination of humor and horror is a trademark of Rachel Harrison’s writing style.

Criticisms and Flaws

Loss of Momentum: Some readers have commented on the loss of momentum in the novel, particularly in the second half. The tension built in the first half does not lead to a cathartic resolution or confrontation, leaving a sense of disappointment for some readers.

Lack of Oomph: The lack of a strong impact or “oomph” in the overall story is another criticism. While the sardonic quips and dark humor add entertainment value, the novel may not live up to the heightened expectations of readers looking for a more impactful narrative.

Undermined Moments: There are instances in the novel where powerful moments or conflicts are undermined, resulting in a less satisfying reading experience. This includes the lack of a cathartic showdown between Vesper and her mother and the fizzling out of conflicts and tension.

Fizzled Conflict: The conflicts within the novel, particularly those between Vesper and her family, do not reach their full potential and often fizzle out. This lack of resolution may be disappointing for readers looking for a more intense and dramatic narrative.

Lack of Cathartic Showdown: One of the criticisms of Black Sheep is the absence of a cathartic showdown between Vesper and her toxic mother. This absence may feel unsatisfying for readers who were looking forward to a more confrontational and empowering resolution.

Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison

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Audio Performance

Narrator Jeremy Carlisle Parker: The audiobook version of Black Sheep is narrated by Jeremy Carlisle Parker, who successfully captures Vesper’s personality and delivers a compelling performance. Parker’s narration helps bring the characters to life and adds depth to the story.

Distinct Voices for Characters: Parker’s narration includes distinct voices for the different characters, further enhancing the audiobook experience. This differentiation helps listeners connect with each character and adds dimension to the overall narrative.

Comparison to Other Books by Rachel Harrison

Favorite Book by the Author: The reviewer mentions that their favorite book by Rachel Harrison is Cackle, implying that they may have preferred that book over Black Sheep.

Similarities/Differences in Themes and Style: While both Black Sheep and other novels by Harrison explore themes of toxic relationships, trauma, and darkly comedic scenarios, each book has its own unique style and narrative focus. Black Sheep specifically explores complicated family dynamics and the desire for rebuilding and reconciliation.

Personal Reflection and Connection

Relatability to the Protagonist: The reviewer shares their personal relatability to Vesper, particularly in terms of her complicated relationship with her mother. They mention their own “mommy issues” and the resonance they felt with Vesper’s struggles and emotions.

Identification with Vesper’s Experiences: The reviewer expresses their identification with Vesper’s experiences, including her difficulty forming attachments and her fears of vulnerability and disappointment. These personal connections contribute to their understanding of Vesper’s character.

Desire for a Fantasy Resolution: The reviewer acknowledges their desire for a fantasy resolution in which Vesper confronts her toxic mother and experiences a cathartic showdown. They express their disappointment when this resolution does not occur in the novel.


In conclusion, Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison is a horror novel that combines dark comedy, sardonic quips, and macabre humor. The novel explores themes of toxic friendships, trauma, complicated family dynamics, mother-daughter relationships, and rebuilding and reconciliation. While the novel loses momentum and lacks a cathartic resolution, it offers a unique and entertaining reading experience. The audiobook performance, particularly the narration by Jeremy Carlisle Parker, enhances the story and brings the characters to life. While different from other books by Rachel Harrison, Black Sheep offers a compelling exploration of complex relationships and the longing for resolution.