Maplecroft by Cherie Priest
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one….
The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.
But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.
This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.”
Lizzie Borden mixed with Cthulu mythos. All righty then. I’ve been reading Cherie Priest’s books since she first started publishing, and I thought that this might be a bit weird even for her. I’m happy to say that it works just fine—surprisingly well, actually. I know almost nothing about Lovecraft’s Cthulu stories, so maybe that worked in my favor, but I honestly think that Priest is just that good of a writer.
The Borden murders are one of the great unsolved mysteries in America: two people found brutally killed with multiple axe blows; a suspect with a changing story; and no clear evidence as to what happened. Admittedly, I didn’t know a heck of a lot about the case, my basic knowledge consisting of the children’s rhyme quoted above. There are enough details about Lizzie’s life contained in this novel to make me go hunting around to see if they were accurate. And for the most part, they are. (Obviously, Lizzie’s dad and stepmom weren’t possessed by evil beings, but that should be apparent.)
Priest’s narrative takes the facts that are known and weaves them seamlessly with her horror story. She explains why Lizzie killed her parents, why she and her sister stayed in the same town after her trial, what caused she and her sister to fall out, and what Lizzie’s relationship was with a prominent actress of the time. There’s no point at which I felt the author’s imaginings interfered with actual facts, and it made the read that much more fascinating.
In reading this book, I was put in mind of Orson Scott Card’s distinctions between dread, terror and horror. Dread is the anticipation of fear, terror is what you feel in the moment, and horror is the aftermath. Much of this novel takes place in the realm of dread—monsters are rarely seen, but their influence is keenly felt as innocent people fall prey to them. There are moments of terror as creatures attack and mythical monsters sing their siren call. There’s very little horror aside from snippets when Lizzie sees the consequences of the supernatural events plaguing her town.
Although the mash-up seems crazy, the end result is a dark historical fantasy that draws you into it as surely as if one of Priest’s monsters had its hooks into your soul. Maplecroft is an incredibly unique and creative novel that brings the thrills from both fact and fiction.