Maplecroft

by Cherie Priest

“And if there are gods after all, perhaps we should not struggle so hard to get their attention, if this is the attention they would lavish upon us.”

The Lizzie Borden murders shocked the world, and now we get the real scoop on what happened. Yes, madness was present, and yes, as we suspected Lizzie was involved, but the story is much deeper. It turns out, in fact, that Lizzie was in the process of saving the world from oceanic Lovecraftian monsters, wielding her axe as a warrior for good. Emma, her live-in sister and Owen, a neighboring doctor, assist in the fight. While a few other characters are involved the story remains tightly concentrated on the small group in the Borden household. A few attempts are made to reach out for help, but the story being so fantastic that no one would believe it mixed with the characters’ own doubts means our heroes are mostly on their own.

In homage to Lovecraft, besides the horrific characteristics of the humanoid monsters, dread is also built on the unknown. The characters have no clear idea of what they’re up against and figuring it out involves questioning their own sanity. Since each monster was previously human the sisters’ sanity was pushed to the brink right at the outset, before the story even started, as we learn of the trauma Lizzie went through dispatching the very first of them–her parents.

There are many aspects of this work to love, but perhaps the most surprising is the successful melding of Lovecraftian dread and breakneck pacing. The first 100 pages or so turn much like a normal, good book, but the next few hundred fly by in a rush of action and horror. It’s not an action movie hail of bullets and monsters but somehow the author makes it seem so for most of the book, which is a special contrast considering the building dread. One might have believed the two forces of building dread and action to be mutually exclusive.

William Schafer of Subterranean Press has written an editorial on his site praising this work. This wasn’t self-promotion, as he’s apparently not working on any edition of the book, but rather an appreciation he wanted to share. Part of the editorial consisted of quotes and further praise from authors such as Chuck Wendig and Kealan Patrick Burke. This may already be more than enough to check out a writer whom you have yet to read, but in the e-book another name will be noticed in the first couple of pages: Joe R. Lansdale, the king of pacing himself, also loves the author’s work.

This is good stuff, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s interesting how an author combines creeping dread with frenetic pacing.

4 stars

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