It’s a blessing, really, that no one will have anything to do with us.

It all started with the brutal murders of Lizzie and Emma Borden’s father and stepmother and Lizzie’s subsequent trial and acquittal. In the aftermath and after receiving their inheritance, the sisters have moved to a new house, Maplecroft, where they try to go about their lives as ostracised citizens of Fall River, Massachusetts.

Or they would if there wasn’t something really rotten in Fall River. And the Borden family’s tragedy is at the very centre of it, since Lizzie did indeed hack her father and stepmother to deathl, except at that point, they were no longer themselves. And that plight—that thing that comes from the ocean—is slowly progressing toward taking over other people’s bodies and souls and Lizzie and Emma are the only ones standing in its way.

Combining the infamous Borden real-life crime with Lovecraft-ian horror (Cherie Priest talks about this combination in her The Big Idea post over at Scalzi’s blog) and told in epistolary narrative, Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft is a perfect Halloween read as long as you are willing to overlook the problems with the form (but more on that below).

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First the positives: Maplecroft is at its most basic level really fun. I love the imagery of its evil creatures, the idea of Lizzie Borden going around with an axe destroying soul-sucking things because she wants to protect her town and her sister. And I loved her romantic relationship with Nance.       

Maplecroft is also really good at depicting the slow, all-encompassing horror of the events surrounding and immediately following the Borden crimes in a cool mixture of horror, mystery and female characters’ badassery. Maplecroft is as much a character piece as it is a horror story and the changing viewpoint chapters allow for getting inside its characters’ heads. As such, in addition to the mystery of what the hell is going on in Fall River, we also have the slow descent into madness that happen to one of the secondary characters and the unfortunate deterioration of the sisters’ relationship. The former increases the underlying suspense as we often wonder where the madness coming from; the latter enhances the narrative with its nuanced storyline of tense, unspoken, complicated family dynamics. 

These positives are the reason why I was only too happy to ignore the fact that the epistolary narrative did not really work here.  Most of the narrative—from Lizzie’s, Emma’s and the doctor’s perspectives—are ostensibly journal entries but read largely as regular narrative anyway complete with dialogue. More to the point, the breaks between “journal entries” felt unnatural and forced: If you are recounting in writing something that has already happened you are hardly going to stop that telling just as when the story is gaining momentum. This is where authorial intervention becomes so clearand often jarred me out of the narrative. Once I opted to pretend that I was not reading an epistolary novel at all, I was able to enjoy the ride. It was a conscious reading choice that worked for me and I thought I should mention it here.

All in all, a solid Halloween read.

In Book Smugglerish: 7 out of 10

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.