Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review of Maplecroft by Cherie Priest, or, Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave Cthulu 40 whacks...

Infamous Lizzie Borden and her sister, Emma, live an odd life in Fall River, Massachusetts. Though Lizzie was acquitted of the murder of their father and stepmother the verdict was not the end of the sisters’ troubles. Mrs. Borden’s sea glass necklace still whispers from the depths of the pit under the cellar, and strange predatory creatures, perhaps drawn by the sea glass’ hypnotic call, come to Maplecroft in the night. As they are the only ones aware of the deadly creatures invading the town of Fall River Lizzie cannot, in good conscience, leave the area unprotected. She spends most of her time researching ways to destroy the things. Her experiments, trials, and tests have all failed. So far, the only success she’s had is hacking them to pieces with her axe. And still more come tapping, slapping, at the walls of Maplecroft, looking for a way in.

Meanwhile Emma, a frail woman stricken with consumption, does her own research on marine biology. She picks up samples from the beach and studies them, writing articles for prominent journals and corresponding with biologists and professors under the pseudonym E.A. Jackson. She sends a particularly interesting, and odiferous, sample to biology professor Phillip Zollicoffer at Miskatonic University, a frequent correspondent.

Professor Zollicoffer, despite Emma’s warning about the sticky smell that accompanies her find, examines the sample without gloves or protective clothing. He is immediately fascinated by what it could be. He feels compelled to “take care” of it, entranced by it’s tentacular, slimy beauty and immune to it’s horrid stench. He names the creature Physalis Zollicoffris and quickly succumbs to her allure, following her instructions and catering to her desires. 

And as Zollicoffer begins his descent into madness Fall River experiences a wave of violence and illness, and the creatures multiply. 

This novel was incredibly creepy and very well written. The basic facets of Lizzie Borden’s historical record are expanded with fiction and interlaced with Lovecraft’s peculiar mythos and creatures. This weirdly wonderful blending of history and horror is told gradually in journal entries and letters by several characters, each delivering their perspective on the story, enriching the narrative and creating a sense of intimacy for the reader. The deliberate pacing and gothic tone of the novel create a feeling of unease in the back of the mind that grows as the novel progresses. I highly recommend this shiver-inducing novel.

Priest, Cherie. Maplecroft (The Borden Dispatches Series, Book 1). New York: ROC, 2015. 5 stars. 

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