Written by: Tera Kirk
Let’s be honest: ”Lizzie Borden vs. aquatic Lovecraftian horrors” sounds like the elevator pitch for a comedy. We’d expect such a story not to take itself seriously–to wink-wink nudge-nudge and constantly remind us through purposeful anachronisms and wild shifts in tone that of course the premise is ridiculous and the writer wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thank goodness Cherie Priest does not go this route with Maplecroft, the first book in a series where Lizzie Borden and her infamous axe are (almost) all that stand between humanity and certain death-by-Deep Ones. Although I like a good horror comedy romp, the story’s earnestness is why I think it is so great. Told in a series of journal entries, letters and reports, the story follows ordinary–and believable–people as they adjust to the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in.
Miss Borden lives with her older sister Emma in the titular Maplecroft, shunned by the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, for a crime that lives on in children’s nursery rhymes. Yes, she did kill her parents with an axe. But, Lizzie maintains, they were not exactly her parents. Something–a sickness? possession?–is changing the people of Fall River for the worse, and the Borden sisters are the only ones who know anything about it.
Unfortunately, they don’t know very much.
Even though the circumstances are out of the ordinary, the characters are very real, indeed. The Bordens have both been isolated for years, and their relationship with each other and with other people is the worse for it, although that is how they survive. They’re both wary of bringing others into their circle, even if they might be able to help battle the creatures. And yet, they are only human. Lizzie is very much in love with her girlfriend, Nance O’Neil. She allows herself to be vulnerable with Nance in a way she doesn’t with any one else, which hurts them both. Her sister Emma has a consumptive illness (whether of natural causes or otherwise, it’s unclear), and has only one path to the world outside Maplecroft: as the biologist E.A. Jackson, who publishes scientific papers and strikes up epistolary correspondences with other researchers. She also relies on Lizzie to take care of her, which ties in to Emma’s dislike of Lizzie’s lover.
Thanks to Cherie Priest’s trust in her characters–sea monsters included–her carefully crafted tale of horrors from the deep is scarier than it has any right to be. I for one can’t wait to see where the series goes next.
About the author: Tera Kirk has loved horror movies since before her mom allowed her to watch most of them. (One of her fondest childhood memories is being terrified of the trailer for Stuart Gordon’s Dolls.) She has written for Monsters At Play, and reviews video games for GameCritics.com. Her more-or-less personal website is Sweet Perdition.