If somebody told you they were reading a book in which Lizzie Borden fights Lovecraftian horrors with her infamous axe, you might snicker a little. YoIf somebody told you they were reading a book in which Lizzie Borden fights Lovecraftian horrors with her infamous axe, you might snicker a little. You might think, "Oh, great. Another historical fiction gag a laSense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Special." I've been awaiting Maplecroft's release for a long while now, mainly on the strength of Cherie Priest's general badassery, but also because for a historical horror and Lovecraft/ian junkie, that's actually an impossible pitch to resist. It could have been ridiculous, and I'd probably have enjoyed it anyway.
Fortunately, snickering is not the order of the day, and the good news is that it's not one bit cheeseball. In fact Priest has crafted a somber and deeply disturbing story of two intelligent women of independent means (and scandalous reputation), small-town mistrust, and a creeping contagion that threatens not only the coastal Massachusetts town of Fall River, but possibly the entire human race. Maplecroft is set in the handful of years after Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the heinous 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother. Of course there's more to that story than meets the eye, and therein begins the tale.
Despite being written in the oft-maligned epistolary style, Maplecroft moves along at a satisfying clip through the letters and diaries of the Borden sisters, Lizbeth (her preferred name) and invalid Emma, Fall River's stalwart local doctor, and a number of mysterious "authorities," one of whom is a peculiar marine biologist from Miskatonic University. The sense of the uncanny, of things that just should not be lurking right outside the safe home Lizbeth has built for her sister and herself, builds slowly, but plateaus over and over again as escalating events among their friends and neighbors threaten -- once again -- to destroy not only their hard-won independence, but also their sanity.
Dark, uncanny and action-packed (also thoroughly gross and reeking of the foetid depths), Maplecroft would be a thrilling stand-alone New-Lovcraftian creation, though I'll admit I'm pleased to see by the subtitle that Borden and her trusty axe will be back. ...more
What a wonderful, terrible, hilarious, disgusting, compelling adventure yarn The Monstrumologist is! I've never read anything even remotely like it. In a nutshell, here's why you should read this book.
1) The monsters -- Anthropophagi -- are completely terrifying. Savage, headless man-eaters, fierce, fast and thoroughly disgusting, they have inexplicably appeared in a small New England town and embarked on a feeding frenzy. These nasty beasties are a welcome development for horror fiction, which has nurtured too many romanticized monsters of late. You do not want to date one of these fellows, of that you can be sure. On they other hand, they'd love to have you incubate their offspring . . ..
2) The sweet-and-sour relationship between the Monstrumologist himself (who is rather like a bizarro-world Sherlock Holmes on one of his manic benders), and our narrator, the plucky and resilient twelve year-old orphan Will Henry. Will has recently inherited his father's position as the peculiar monster-hunting scientist Dr. Pellinore Warthrop's assistant, and is about to be plunged into the kind of mayhem that would make even professional monster-hunters quail. Before the tale is told Will will see (and do!) unthinkable things in the name of science, and forge himself a new family from the ashes of tragedy.
3) Yancey's writing is wonderful. Densely descriptive without being dull; poetic without being pretentious. Top notch plotting as well. I've seen reviews say it was slow in the middle, but I couldn't put it down at any point. When the action slows down, the character development picks up the slack with sharp, funny dialogue and moments of painful honesty about the human (and inhuman) condition. Also, the feeling of dread that builds throughout, especially in the quiet moments, leads to a spectacular payoff.
4) It's viscerrific! The Monstrumologist may be one of the bloodiest (and brain-iest, and pus-iest, and maggot-iest) books I have ever read. The gore is so over-the-top that sometimes I laughed and cringed simultaneously. I know it's considered a YA novel (and has the Printz-prize sticker to prove it); however I'm pretty sure it would have terrified me as a kid. Granted, I was kind of a wuss, but there were at least two scenes where the jaded, adult me felt the need to avert my gaze and skip ahead because I really didn't want any more detail about the disgustingness happening. (No, no, no, no, NO. A world of no.) You'd better be sure your kid can take it -- I'd read it first, just to be sure.
Grotesque, rollicking and unique fun, The Monstrumologist has made a Rick Yancey fan out of me. I can't wait to get my hands on the second installment, The Curse of the Wendigo....more
It's wonderful to know that everyone in the King family is blessed with mad skills. Not envious at all. Nope.
Kidding aside, Double Feature, Owen King'It's wonderful to know that everyone in the King family is blessed with mad skills. Not envious at all. Nope.
Kidding aside, Double Feature, Owen King's first novel, is a hilarious tragedy, a family romance, a loving commentary on what constitutes "art" (in film, specifically), and a damned good yarn. It's stuffed full of loud, round characters you both love and hate a little sometimes, but who impress themselves on your psyche with the heft of real people. It's much too snarky to be called a feel-good novel, but it left me feeling good, and that's an achievement all by itself. Looking forward to further enriching the King coffers with Owen's next . . . 5 stars.
The tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel playsThe tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel plays with Gothic conventions masterfully. An attempt to patch together the story of those dark years, The Accursed is the manuscript of amateur historian (and descendant of a "Cursed" family) M.W. van Dyck II. He presents a series of excerpts from journals, letters, newspapers, even a coded diary, written during the time of the "Curse," in an attempt to piece together the strange and horrible events that appear to have begun with the abduction of the innocent and beautiful Annabel Slade from the church on her wedding day.
Between the covers you will find demon lovers, murderous jealousy, miscegenation, beckoning apparitions, even a fairy kingdom. Also, an absolutely enormous cast of characters, some entirely fictional, like the sorely afflicted Slade family; others "real," like Woodrow Wilson (at the time President of Princeton University); ex-U.S. President Grover Cleveland; and Socialist writer Upton Sinclair. What I did not expect to find was a darkly satirical commentary on Christian piety, ivory tower backstabbing, gaping class division, the rise of Socialism, and, of course, the "Gothic novel" itself.
This great little weird novel was recently rescued from obscurity by publishing house Lovecraft's Library. According to Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi,This great little weird novel was recently rescued from obscurity by publishing house Lovecraft's Library. According to Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi, HPL mentions having read The Place Called Dagon in his letters (1928) and also in Supernatural Horror in Literature. Though he called it "purile" at the time, there is much academic speculation that TPCD may have influenced classics such as "The Dunwich Horror" and "Dreams in the Witch House," and perhaps fear of comparison even played a part in HPL's reluctance to release "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward." Conversely, it is almost certain Gorman had never heard of Lovecraft -- the name "Dagon" wasn't original to HPL's 1917 short story -- and just happened to stray into the weird for this one novel. (Gorman wrote several, though he is now mostly forgotten).
Despite its anomalous state, TPCD actually sits quite proudly in the weird tradition, somewhere between Blackwood and Lovecraft: in some ways it recalls Blackwood's classic tale "Ancient Sorceries," but instead of time-haunted Europe, is set instead in HPL's eldritch and inbred New England.
(Mild spoilers follow.)
Gorman's hero, a young doctor who has assumed a practice in an out-of-the-way Massachusetts valley, soon begins to suspect ancient and evil secrets persist beneath the hard, practical veneer of the town of Marlborough. Lo and behold, it seems the locals are in fact descended from survivors of the Salem witch-cult, and strange rites are being resurrected in the dark woods. The cast contains some pretty stock weird figures, including an arrogant arcane scholar, his disturbingly alluring wife, and a dour and malevolent preacher. Sometimes assisting the determined doctor in his search for the truth: Marlborough's now housebound former doctor -- a reticent (and mildly alcoholic) adviser on town matters; a beautiful and friendless orphan ingenue; and a stolid local farmer who is both kinder and cannier than he appears.
It's Gorman's rather modern writing which prevents TPCD from being "just" another forgettable pulp horror novel -- certainly, he's less long-winded than Blackwood and less purple than Lovecraft. His lyrical descriptions of atmosphere and landscape and keen insights into human motivation keep the tale interesting, and his candid take on female sexuality seems quite progressive for 1927. TPCD is a quick and enjoyable read, and deserving of being resurrected into the pantheon of the good weird. Four solid stars.
Good story; fine artwork -- I just wish it had been longer! Haven't at this stage read the story it's based on, but liked the Under the Dome connectioGood story; fine artwork -- I just wish it had been longer! Haven't at this stage read the story it's based on, but liked the Under the Dome connections....more
Likely King's best novel in many years, UtD grabs you at the first page and never lets up, with a propulsive narrative that is both as disturbing as yLikely King's best novel in many years, UtD grabs you at the first page and never lets up, with a propulsive narrative that is both as disturbing as you might expect, and even more so. Everything you need to know is right there in the title: the town of Chester's Mill, Maine has become cut off from the world by a mysterious transparent "dome" which appears out of nowhere on a crisp fall day. No one can leave, and no one can enter. The town is on its own.
Less a traditional "horror" story (though there's plenty of gruesome moments), and more a hostage situation on a grand scale, UtD is most effective when showcasing the evil men (and all the other inhabitants of beleaguered Chester's Mill) can do when traditional moral structures collapse around them, when the world shrinks and becomes alien and full of menace, when any idea of a sympathetic, or even rational, god has gone the way of fresh supplies . . . and fresh air.
Along the way the reader meets a cast of characters roughly the size of a small Maine town; chief among them the corrupt Selectman who views the crisis as a golden opportunity; the adolescent whiz-kids intent on helping to solve it; the Revelations-spewing meth addict who runs the town's Christian (and only) radio station; the overtaxed PA who becomes the town's de-facto doctor; and leading the cast, a former soldier on the drift, who manages to just miss his opportunity to get out while the getting is good.
With strongly delineated heroes -- flawed though they may be -- to root for, and plenty of despicable self-proclaimed "good guys" to hiss at (small-town cops and elected officials take rather a drubbing, as do unchristian Christians), UtD takes an inexplicable disaster and puts a human face on the toll it exacts. I won't say any more than this -- when I was halfway through the book, I couldn't imagine any way things could get worse for Chester's Mill. Fortunately, good old Uncle Steve's imagination is a long way from running dry.