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.