August 13, 2014

Review: Maplecroft

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Full disclosure: I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. First time that's ever happened.)

I've been following Cherie Priest's Livejournal for quite some time, and have read a lot about her, but this is the first book of hers I've ever read. My goodness, what an introduction.

The back cover of this ARC categorizes it as "fantasy," and I suppose that's partly true, but to me it's old-school horror. Slow and measured, with a steadily escalating tension and creepiness, until the last fourth of the book when everything suddenly explodes. There's monsters wailing in the deep, mutated something-or-others scuttling around front yards, a madman who has metamorphosed into something inhuman hunting down one of the two protagonists (at least the two women I think of as the protagonists, although there are several other first-person POVs), swinging axes, bubbling acid baths, lashing waves, and last but not least, a single, seemingly off-handed (but of course it isn't) mention in a three-page chapter that made me shiver. Tentacles.

Somewhere, H.P. Lovecraft is smiling in his grave.

Of course, most of us remember the legend of Lizzie Borden. (Lizzie Borden took an axe/And gave her mother forty whacks...") According to Lizzie's Wikipedia entry, nearly all of the people Priest weaves so skillfully into her book actually existed. So did Maplecroft, the house where Lizzie and Emma, her sister, lived after the murders and Lizzie's acquittal. Of course, the real solution to the Borden murders isn't green stones from the sea that take over people's minds and slowly metamorphose their bodies into...something else, something wet and twisted and murderous, that seem to be responding to the commands of an unseen deep-sea goddess. A Goddess who wants a particular woman, Lizzie's actress lover, Nance O'Neil, and later Emma Borden.

One likes to think so, at least.

Seriously, the amount of research that went into this is astonishing. The prose is slow and formal, very 19th-century; but if you think that sounds boring, it isn't. On the contrary, this masterfully constructed story sucks you in, step by careful step, until the reader realizes those steps are becoming wetter and bloodier...and doesn't give a damn. Until the explosive climax, which features one of the most gruesome, but most completely earned (remember the bubbling acid bath, a machine set in the cellar floor cheerfully labeled the "cooker"?) deaths of a villain I have ever read.

This book is unique, and wonderful, and terrifying. Don't miss it.

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