MapleCroft or What Cherie Priest Wrote for Sara’s Birthday

It’s possible anyone I’ve spent any time talking to in the last year about books or entertainment in general knows how eager I have been to get my hands on MapleCroft by Cherie Priest. I ordered it for myself months ago as I knew it would drop on my birthday. As it happened, I was home in bed with a fever the day it arrived so I got to devote my undivided attention to it. And finished it within 48 hours, wholly unwilling to put it down for more than a few hours of sleep.

Ahead of release day, the premise of MapleCroft appealed to me from every angle. In this universe, Lizzie Borden is undeniably guilty of murdering her parents who had succumbed to an inexplicable Lovecraftian blight. Priest’s solid storytelling proves the appealing premise worthy of all the buzz ahead of release date. As always, Priest’s characters are revealed to be driven by their own unique mixture of motivation and flaws. When Borden is acquitted of murder, she retires with her invalid older sister in reclusive notoriety to a mansion Lizzie custom outfits with a state of the occult laboratory purposed to better understand the unfathomable threat to her family and seaside community. While Lizzie experiments with blighted specimens and delves deeply into related lore, her sister Emma continues to solidify her reputation as an eminent expert in marine biology by publishing high impact papers and corresponding with other scientists under a male pseudonym. Her scientific endeavors unearth a mysterious sea creature with strange radial symmetry and a bizarre aura of influence over susceptible populations. Once unleashed into the academic community, the influence of the creature permeates the surrounding populace with a miasma of madness and malady forcing Lizzie’s experimental theories to phase three clinical trials.

Not only did I love the premise, but the horror elements also captivated and unsettled me. One of the most persistent images for me was the behavioral characterization of a young beachcomber whose initial sign of affliction was an uncanny tilt of the head toward the sea at all times. So simple but so unsettling.

Many others have already noted it, but I also appreciated the epistolary style of storytelling Priest utilizes to give a comprehensive account of the events from multiple primary sources. In case you are like me and wasn’t aware there was a word for it, epistolary refers to the book’s composition of a series of documents and letters detailing the plot from different points of view. Stoker most notably framed Dracula this way and Priest is able to build horror over time, instill a growing sense of urgency, and illustrate firsthand the mental deterioration of main characters under the influence of the Lovecraftian horror.

It took me some time to settle on how I felt about the final solution Lizzie and her companions employ to defeat the palpably solidifying sense of malignancy. At first, I really wasn’t sure about it. I felt like I should love it but resisted. Later, it really grew on me quite a bit. Finally, I liken it to a solution that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Supernatural, a show I’m deep into the seventh season of and highly recommend. So, I guess the bottom line there is that I would love to discuss it with anyone who has read the book and hear their gut reaction to it. I just hope if any of my friends decide to read it that they clear a couple of days for for an engrossing read that demands resolution. Also, for the record I’m definitely considering dressing as this version of Lizzie Borden for Halloween this year.

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Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie Priest

ImageI just finished a terrific horror story by one of my favorite authors, Cherie Priest called Those Who Went Remain There Still. I have previously enjoyed Priest’s alternate history and steampunk series collectively known as The Clockwork Century and her urban fantasy series starring Raylene, an OCD vampire and her stellar cast of mismatched companions who she is reluctant to have. I attended a book signing for Inexplicables at Joseph Beth Booksellers in Lexington, KY, and was intrigued by the relatively local setting of Leitchfield, KY, for the book she adapted from her own family history.  Priest is descended from the Coys, a central Kentucky family who feuded with Manders and she adapted the family legend of some unusual inheritance conditions involving both families and the long standing tradition in Kentucky that everyone has a Daniel Boone story to weave an addicting story involving the clearing of the Wilderness Road, a monster from deep within the Kentucky forest, and mediums communing with the spirits.

I knew Priest could brilliantly tell a ghost story from her blog entry on the subject “How to Tell a True Ghost Story,” but I wasn’t prepared, as someone who avoids horror, for how much I would appreciate one from my home state and involving people with whom I could identify on a number of levels. I especially enjoyed the dual plot as Priest adeptly jumped between Boone’s 1775 forging of the Wilderness Road and the 1899 world of Leitchfield, KY.  I was super impressed by the well woven plot points involving the Lily Dale, New York, spiritualists. Those Who Went Remain There Still is a fast read with a twist ending that worked out just as it should have for the characters she created.

Kentucky is a wonderful, beautiful place that I love and think everyone should visit. It and its people demonstrate limitless potential and contribute valuable works to the worlds of art, industry, education, science, medicine, and any other area of life you can name.  But with any place in the world, there are disparities between populations and hard truths about its history. This book focuses on a poor community in central Kentucky in the 1890’s. Honestly, it’s not a idyllic social setting in spite of the natural beauty. Two families descended from the same man have feuded for generations since the Civil War, and most of the characters are uneducated and have never left their homes, as would be true for much of the remote parts of the state. Two of the main characters chose to leave the community of their relatives they didn’t fit so well. Priest mentioned at her Inexplicables signing that there was some backlash from Kentuckians who read the book because the story focused on those who moved away. Brain drain and other problems with exodus from small towns is a huge issue many of my Eastern Kentucky friends and I have discussed for hours. I think it’s so important to remember that just because people leave Kentucky doesn’t mean they stop being Kentuckians or that they stop contributing to the world on behalf of Kentucky. They just also build on their Kentucky roots and contribute on behalf of their adopted home states or countries as well.

I received this book as a Christmas present from Brad and I understand it’s difficult to find in hardcover but the ebook is only $2.99 on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Definitely give it a chance if you are an e-reader. I hope with the rise in popularity of the Clockwork Century Novels it will get some additional attention from publishers in the form of a re-release. I am greatly looking forward to finally getting a chance to sit down with Inexplicables and will eventually check out her Eden Moore books as well.