Maplecroft by Cherie Priest
Book #1 in The Borden Dispatches
Genres: Historical Horror Fantasy
Publication Date: September 2nd 2014
ARC Provided by Roc Trade and Netgalley
Christal’s Review – 4 Skulls – A-
I personally enjoyed Maplecroft but the first thing you need to decide before picking up this book is if you can tolerate a story where Lizzy Borden killing her parents is given a paranormal reasoning. Since this is a fictional take on a historical event, the “explanation” given for the murder in this book might bother some readers and I think it is best for them to stay away. If you don’t think this storyline will be a problem for you, then I highly recommend this book — especially for readers looking for a Lovecraftian creepfest!
The story of Maplecroft is told in several different perspectives but the most notable characters are Lizzie and Emma Borden, the town doctor Owen Seabury, Lizzie’s girlfriend Nance, and Emma’s professional colleague Dr. Phillip Zollicoffer. Each character, and some other side characters, has several turns at filling in the storyline from their point of view. It could be a little confusing at times, but I feel like it worked to present a well-rounded story overall. It begins with a strange sickness overtaking the Bordens and of course with the murder and Lizzie’s trial. What we learn is that there is something rotten in Fall River, something from the sea, and it is causing the citizens to “become” something else, something not human. The story picks up a few years after the trial, detailing the slow invasion of Fall River and Lizzie Borden’s fight against it.
Though Maplecroft started out a little slow for me, it picked up around the 25% mark. It soon became almost impossible to put down, even though it continuously left me unsettled and freaked out. There isn’t really anything overtly scary here, but Cherie Priest has managed to evoke a gothic sense of wrongness throughout this story. The descriptions are good and serve to paint a disturbing picture of a town losing its security. Anyone can start to “become” and no one knows why. Is it tetanus? Are people simply losing their mind? Only Lizzie and her closest confidants know there is more going on beneath the surface. There were several scenes that I can recall in detail even now that serve to send a chill down my spine. The young boy treading air as if it were water, the delicate gills appearing on a submerged girl’s throat, the slow creeping and banging of a monster trying to find its way in, even a good and learned man slowing realizing that he is descending into madness… all were effective at throwing the reader off-balance.
Cherie Priest just has a certain way with words and Maplecroft is no exception. It is very obvious that she put a lot of time into researching the story of Lizzie Borden and the time period the story is set in, but it never feels like you are reading a history book – even when the paranormal elements are absent. The different perspectives are captivating and serve to fill in large amounts of information that we would have missed from Lizzie’s perspective alone. The historical and paranormal interweave beautifully and the dread just seeps through the pages. This is a love song to Lovecraft and a very fine example of effective horror writing. Priest doesn’t tell; she shows and the reader feels the phantom fingers of fear running down their spine. The only reason I didn’t give this one five stars is because I’m not sure how it will develop into a series. The story felt pretty contained here, but I am eager for more. Also, I ended up really not liking Emma and I didn’t understand her reasoning at several points in the story. And lastly, there is still so much more to learn about the origin of the evil and the mysterious Inspector Wolf. None of these issues took away from the story, but they did leave me with serious questions at the end. All in all, Maplecroft was a delightfully creepy horror read and I highly recommend it to those looking for a little shiver of fear at night.
Thank you to Roc Trade and Netgalley for providing an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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