‘Maplecroft’ brings the creeping horror

maplecroft cherie priest

Regular readers of this blog know I’m a fan of writer Cherie Priest, who became queen of steampunk fiction with her “Clockwork Century” series – kicked off by “Boneshaker” – about an 1800s America where the Civil War drags on for decades and a plague of zombies threatens the very existence of the country. Any series that combines spunky Seattle adventurers, Texas rogues and Abraham Lincoln is ambitious as can be.

I also really enjoyed Priest’s stories about Raylene Pendle, an “urban fantasy” heroine. I’m kind of disappointed there’s only been two books so far.

As fond of the “Clockwork Century” stories as I am, I think her latest, “Maplecroft,” is Priest’s strongest work yet.

For those of us who know little about the real-life Lizzie Borden – beyond the “40 whacks” childhood rhyme – Priest gives us a Victorian-era heroine who’ll remind you a bit of Buffy Summers. Borden is strong yet vulnerable and wields a mean axe in her battle with shambling, skittering death.

It seems that Borden killed her father and his wife for a good reason: They were possessed by the spirit of a sea creature not unlike Cthulhu, HP Lovecraft’s immortal demon-god.

In Borden’s little New England town, the sea is calling to people – and not in a romantic way. Infected by ancient stones and specimens of unidentifiable sea creatures, people are slowing turning into monsters with shark-like teeth and soggy, water-soaked bodies.

No one knows this, of course, but Borden and her sister, Emma, who live in the family’s mansion, two years after Borden has been acquitted of killing her father and his wife. The Borden sisters – and eventually a small and uneasy group of allies – fight off this watery invasion in what’s promised as the first in a series of novels.

There’s some fun action, a lot of nameless, faceless horror and some terrific characters in “Maplecroft,” which is totally not surprising to anyone who’s read Priest’s work. She has a knack for creating characters who, even when their fears and insecurities are laid bare, retain a lot of mystery.

“Maplecroft” is a horror/adventure novel for people who think they know the genre and think nothing new can be done. By going back to the beginnings of the horror genre, Priest brings her readers something that feels new and fresh and full of dread.

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