Brat Farrar

In this tale of mystery and suspense, a stranger enters the inner sanctum of the Ashby family posing as Patrick Ashby, the heir to the family’s sizable fortune. The stranger, Brat Farrar, has been carefully coached on Patrick’s mannerisms, appearance, and every significant detail of Patrick’s early life, up to his thirteenth year when he disappeared and was thought to have drowned himself. It seems as if Brat is going to pull off this most incredible deception until old secrets emerge that jeopardize the imposter’s plan and his life.

Brat Farrar is a classic of the mystery genre, and deservedly so. I found it a bit of a slow-burner in the early stages, but it built into a roaring blaze by the end! In the hands of a lesser plotter, the central mystery of the book would have been “Is he the real Patrick Ashby?”, but Tey lets us in on the conspiracy immediately: Brat is decidedly not Patrick, and is knowingly deceiving the family to gain the fortune. Yet, Brat Farrar is a decent person at his core, and has qualms about the crime he’s committing. The more he gets to know his new family, the more invested he becomes in discovering the true fate of the man he’s impersonating.

The next layer of mystery seemed pretty straightforward, too. There’s one Ashby who’s quite certain Brat is an imposter: the usurped Simon, Patrick’s twin. His behavior is perplexing, though: if he’s so confident Brat is a fraud, why doesn’t he expose the lie? If he can prove Patrick is truly dead, why not do so and secure the estate for himself? The answer seemed obvious, and I thought the book would hold little surprise for me. I should have had more faith in Josephine Tey!

Just as I was thinking of skimming the rest of the book and setting it aside, Tey introduced the wonderful character of Timber, the murder horse. A magnificent, spirited beast, Timber has deliberately murdered one rider, and had a go at another, before making an attempt on Brat. Tey makes it clear this isn’t something the horse has been trained to do, but is of his own will–how hilarious, and wonderful! Giving Brat this second adversary was a masterstroke; Tey had me firmly in hand for the rest of the book.

There are several more puzzles to solve: whether Patrick was actually murdered, how, and why? Why does the foundling Brat look so much like an Ashby that he easily passes for Patrick? How will Brat get out of his perilous position without dooming himself or harming the family he’s come to love? Most importantly, as Brat transforms from villain to hero of the story, how will Tey maneuver him into a happy ending?

I went from feeling a bit bored with this story, to loving it completely. It doesn’t displace The Daughter of Time as my favorite Tey novel, but it’s right at that book’s heels. It’s a terrific mystery that deserves its place in the pantheon of classics.

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Imaged used by permission of Abigail Larson

Imaged used by permission of Abigail Larson

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I was thinking about skipping R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) this year. There’s so much going on, and I’m putting so much energy into job-hunting, I don’t have a lot left over. All my creative writing is going into customizing resumes and cover letters for each job I apply to.

But it is September now, and the weather has thoughtfully turned cool and grey. Even if I don’t post for RIP, I’m still going to read other people’s reviews; I get such great recommendations from them every year. So this morning, I checked in on the site, and was greeted by this sweet miss:

Imaged used by permission of Abigail Larson

Imaged used by permission of Abigail Larson

Now, how’m I gonna say no to that little face? I just can’t. It’s RIP time, the happiest time of year! If I only have a little room for it, that’s better than none. So I’m committing to Peril the Third–read and review one mystery/thriller/horror/Gothic/dark fantasy book in the next two months. Anything more will be gravy.

Just saying I’m in has made me so much happier. Let’s get RIPping!

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The Lunar Chronicles

LunarChroniclesA cyborg Cinderella flees a royal ball, leaving behind not a slipper, but an entire foot. A smart, tough Red Riding Hood fights to protect her Grandmother from lupine super-soldiers. A hacker Rapunzel is locked away in a satellite, forced to spy on the enemies of her evil captor. A beautiful and kind Snow White struggles to hold on to her sanity in the court of her cruel, jealous step-mother. And a plague-ridden Earth balances on the point of war with their Lunar neighbors, who covet Earth’s resources, and promise a cure to the disease ravaging Earth’s population.

Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles series are the fairy tales you love, in space! And updated with smart, strong heroines who do as much fighting, problem-solving, and rescuing as their male counterparts do. If I had a daughter, these are books I would delight in sharing with her, and role models I would be happy for her to emulate.

The series is set far enough in the future that humans who colonized the moon have experienced evolutionary divergence from Earth humans; they have developed a psychic ‘gift’ that allows them to manipulate both their own appearance, and the actions of others. They have the powers of glamor and mind-control over each other and all Earthens. A small portion of the Lunar population is born without the gift, which makes them also immune to the powers of others; these “shells” are condemned to death by law, after a shell assassinated the parents of the current of queen. More recently, a mysterious, swift-moving, and fatal disease called “letimosis” has reached plague status on Earth.

The first book is Cinder, a story about a girl who lives with her cruel stepmother and step-sisters, who mistreat her because of her cyborg parts. As a child, Cinder barely survived the hovercraft accident that killed her parents; she’s nearly half robot now, with a prosthetic arm and leg, and a very useful computer in her brain. The kindly man who adopted her unfortunately succumbed to letimosis soon afterward, leaving Cinder alone with her resentful stepmother.

Cinder is also a talented mechanic, and one day, the Crown Prince of the Eastern Commonwealth comes to her market stall in disguise, with an android for Cinder to repair. Sparks fly (hah!), and soon Cinder is caught up in political intrigue. Queen Levana of Luna is pressuring Kai into a marriage alliance with a promise to deliver the letimosis cure her scientists are developing, and the threat of war with Luna if he doesn’t agree. Cinder discovers evidence of a much more nefarious plot, and by the end of the novel, she’s a fugitive from both Earthen and Lunar authorities.

In Scarlet, Cinder’s search for clues to her true identity takes her to the South of France, looking for a woman who might have answers about Cinder’s past. She arrives to discover the woman has been missing for weeks, and her granddaughter Scarlet in a frenzy of concern about her. Scarlet is accompanied by a rough character, the hulking yet handsome Wolf, who’s keeping a low profile after falling out with his “gang”. The Pack, it turns out, are a unit of Lunar super-soldiers, one of many secretly planted around Earth, awaiting the signal to start a war. Cinder, Scarlet, Wolf, and the roguish pilot Thorne–on the run for his own reasons–escape as the simmering war between Earth and Luna boils over into open conflict.

In Cress, we meet the mysterious hacker who has been helping our heroes–a lunar shell, taken from her parents as an child and imprisoned in a satellite. With little else to do, and left entirely alone except from occasional visits from her captor, Cress learns all she can about the technology around her. She is forced to use her tech skills to spy, hating her captor and looking for a way to escape. She makes contact with Cinder and helps her elude capture; when Cinder learns about Cress’ situation, she resolves to rescue her. The team succeeds, but at a cost: Scarlet is captured and Thorne blinded. (I love how Meyer transformed details from the original stories to fit in her futuristic world. Thorne, Cress’ “prince”, is blinded in the crash of their ship after her rescue–as was the prince who fell from Rapunzel’s tower. And then they wander around in a desert for a bit!)

Winter brings them all together to stop Levana and her wicked machinations once and for all. Winter is the step-daughter of Queen Levana, widely beloved for her kindness and admired for her incomparable beauty. Winter refuses to employ her psychic gifts, and doing so is slowly driving her insane; she has frequent, violent hallucinations and a tenuous grasp on reality. Nevertheless, she is resolved to help Cinder and her allies in their bid to overthrow Levana, end the war with Earth, and get the letimosis cure to all who need it. This becomes even more important when the disease mutates, and formerly-immune Lunars start succumbing to it.

I loved the characters in these books so much; they’re fun, interesting and complicated. These aren’t pretty, perfect cartoon princesses; they’re human teenagers, with faults and fears and limitations. They make mistakes, they stumble, they fall; their nobility is in they way they rise again, and keep fighting. They are beautiful, yes, but more importantly, they are all smart and brave, each in her own way–Scarlet and Cinder are physically bold and engage in combat; Cress is more timid, yet resolute, and Winter, the frailest princess, displays an astounding moral courage. These fairy-tale princesses are worthy role models for young readers, and the series is great entertainment for readers of any age.

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2015 Reading Wrap-Up

2015 was a great year for reading! I easily bested my goal of 2 books per month, largely thanks to audiobooks (multi-tasking!) and the fact I was totally enamored with Marissa Meyer’s YA series, The Lunar Chronicles. (We’ll get to a review of them soon, because wow, did I love them!) So here’s what my year in books looked like:

1. Scarlet, Marissa Meyer
2. Cress, Marissa Meyer
3. Fairest, Marissa Meyer
4. The Care and Management of Lies, Jacqueline Winspear
5. The Martian, Andy Weir
6. The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman
7. The Restorer, Amanda Stevens
8. The Thickety, J.A. White
9. Agent to the Stars, John Scalzi
10. Lady Susan, Jane Austen
11. The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee
12. Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks
13. Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
14. I Know I Am, But What Are You?, Samantha Bee
15. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
16. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
17. Reamde, Neal Stephenson
18. Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
19. The Delicate Dependency, Michael Talbot
20. Bird Box, Josh Malerman
21. Chapelwood, Cherie Priest
22. The Quick, Lauren Owen
23. Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Thomas Ligotti
24. The Chameleon’s Shadow, Minette Walters
25. Girl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart
26. The End of All Things, John Scalzi
27. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
28. The Year of Living Danishly, Helen Russell
29. Winter, Marissa Meyer
30. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson

Of the 30 books, 17 were by 12 different women authors, and 13 were by 11 male authors. I don’t pay attention to gender breakout while reading–I just follow my fancies–but I’m always pleased when it turns out fairly balanced.

Big winners in 2015, in addition to The Lunar Chronicles mentioned before: The Martian, which I loved every word of, and Station Eleven, which has affected me deeply and lastingly. It is, in fact, influencing my 2016 reads, because the motto of The Traveling Symphony continues to echo around my head: Because Survival is Insufficient. I might be reading fewer books in 2016; I’ll set a minimum of 12, and I’ll aim for 18, but I’m going to be directing more of my free time to my art, to creating, to exploring all the things that make life worth living. I have, in fact, begun seriously thinking about writing a book myself. No promises, but I’m giving that idea space and attention and seeing what comes of it.

Thank you for reading Bookish Dark this year, for talking about books and life and everything with me. I wish you all the best in this bright and promising new year!

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Station Eleven

Station11Arthur Leander, faded movie star and tabloid mainstay, seeks to jumpstart his career by starring in a stage production of King Lear. Sadly, the role will be his swan song; he suffers a heart attack and dies on stage, despite heroic efforts to save him. A poignant tragedy, but one the world will have little time to mourn.

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

The Georgia Flu has come ashore. The time from exposure to death is a matter of hours, and the flu is more than 99.9% fatal. Hospitals are overburdened within a day; panic spreads and society shorts out soon after. Within weeks, the world is effectively dead, except for small pockets of survivors who avoided contagion.

Kirstin Raymonde was a child actress sharing the stage with Leander when he died. Twenty years later, she is a member of The Traveling Symphony, a touring troupe plying Beethoven and Shakespeare among tiny settlements in the Great Lakes region. Their motto is their raison d’etre:

Because Survival is Insufficient.

In one of those little towns, The Symphony runs afoul of a violent cult leader called “The Prophet”, and their members start quietly disappearing. Kirstin, cut off from the rest of the troupe, will have to fight for her life. What she doesn’t know is that she has a secret connection to the Prophet, and holds an unsuspected key to his power. Arthur Leander spun out many threads in his outsized life, and several of them are about to tangle in wildly unexpected ways.

Station Eleven is an unusual novel: it’s a small, quiet, personal story of an apocalypse. It’s not angling to be the next blockbuster at the Cineplex, featuring Big Name Star fighting it out in the chaotic days of civilization’s collapse. It wants to sit with you in a quiet room and raise questions about who we are, and what makes life worth living. The near-extinction of the human race isn’t the point; it’s just the backdrop for the drama on stage.

Like any good speculative fiction, Station Eleven is really about our world now, not the brutalized future it’s set in. Mandel is less concerned with warning us against heading down the path to Armageddon than she is in getting us to appreciate what we have, while we still have it. I saw any number of reviewers describe Station Eleven as “elegiac”, which is the perfect word for it. It’s a somber, beautiful book, and the world it eulogizes is the one we live in right now. It wants you to consider the daily miracles we take for granted (she said, typing the words with a fingertip on a small pane of glass with no visible connections to anything else, but which nevertheless magically appear on the small pane of glass in front of you, wherever you are.)

We need art, and music, and stories; we need the people who create them, and we need to participate in their creation.

Because survival is insufficient.

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Girl Waits With Gun

GirlGunConstance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared. (From the book jacket.)

What a terrific read! Amy Stewart has taken the bare bones of a historical case, and fleshed them out into a wonderfully entertaining story. The Kopp sisters, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette, are all unusual women for their time, and each in her own way. I admired steadfast Constance greatly, made allowances for flighty little Fleurette (she’s only a child), and absolutely loved curmudgeonly Norma. I feared for their safety as the gang’s harassment campaign built in intensity, and cheered their perseverance.

Woven into the main story of the feud are other little mysteries–some I think you’ll guess rather quickly, and others that came as big “Ah-hah!” moments. All the way through, the story was completely engrossing. I’m so happy to know that Stewart plans to write more stories featuring Constance Kopp and Sheriff Robert Heath; they are a wonderful new crime-fighting partnership!

And with this post, I wrap up another highly entertaining RIP season. What a prime crop of books passed through my hands this year! I spent some time browsing a bookstore yesterday and picked up two Minette Walters titles I haven’t read yet, and am wondering if I can hold off on them until next year…? Probably not. Maybe a better idea would be to institute a monthly RIP Reads feature? Hmm…

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Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

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The Quick

London, 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society, and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Unnerved, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world at the margins populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s preeminent and mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most ambitious, and most dangerous, men in England. (from the book jacket)

NOTE: This is a discussion of a group read, so it’s a lot more spoilery than the usual BookishDark review. Proceed at your own risk!

Before tackling the questions, I want to say I’m so glad I decided to join the Peril of the Group Read this year–I really enjoyed this book! I don’t know how I managed to miss the furore over it when it came out; there was apparently quite the to-do over not revealing the big twist of the book. I don’t know how soon I would have caught on to the vampire presence, if I hadn’t been expecting them from the start.

1. What genre (or genres) would you say THE QUICK falls into? What genre or author influences do you see in this book?
Historical fiction, horror, and gothic romance. I saw nods to Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, and perhaps a bit of Arthur Conan Doyle.

2. Emily Richter figures into many of the book’s most pivotal early scenes. How much do you think she knows or doesn’t know about James and Christopher, and about Eustace’s change?
I think she has a strong suspicion about James and Christopher, but I’d be very surprised if she knew anything about the vampires. I think she just had a good instinct about people, and was perhaps a bit protective of James and Christopher, and saw Eustace as the more common sort of threat to their relationship–a disapproving elder with the ability to ruin James, if necessary, to keep Christopher away from him.

There’s an interesting contrast to be drawn between Emily as “woman of the world” and Charlotte as “sheltered country girl”, because Charlotte ends up knowing a heck of a lot about a world that Emily’s only on the edge of.

3. Did you notice the repetition of owls? What’s up with that?
Classically, owls are a symbol of wisdom, associated with the Goddess Athena–and the Aegolius Club certainly seemed to think they were wise and ancient and eternal. Plus, there’s the whole traveling only by night and swooping down on their prey piece. I’m sure they thought it was a very clever reference to their changed nature.

It’s also foreshadowing: James is marked out by the owls from the first page–they torment him from the walls of the nursery, and from outside the windows. And who protects him from the owls? Big sister Charlotte.

4. Characters agree to the Exchange for different reasons. Are there any reasons that would tempt you to join the Aegolius Club?
Oh, well, you know…eternal life means all the time in the world to read everything you want, right? A nice, quiet, bookish life, interrupted by the occasional hunt for human blood…oh, right. No, it seems tempting to have the strength and power of the vampire, but the downsides are really awful. How depressed or narcissistic would you have to be to actually make that bargain?

5. Why do you think Mrs. Price turns children? How does their group compare to other family units in the book?
They’re probably easier to catch in the first place, and then easier to control after the change. Mrs. Price’s “family” is an obvious reference to Fagin’s gang in Oliver Twist, although they also put me in mind of Sherlock Holmes’ “Baker Street Irregulars”, the children he used as spies and messengers, because the street kids of Victorian London were so invisible. They slip through crowds and in and out of places so easily, and aren’t enough trouble for most people to pay any attention to.

Like other family units in the book, they’re linked by blood and necessity. Charlotte and James have only each other in all the world; the Bier brothers and the Paige brothers have their conflicts, but can’t give up on each other because of family ties. The most interesting family unit in the whole book, for my money, is Shadwell and Swift. Their link is a lost loved one, and they’ve clung together out of shared grief and a drive for vengeance–which warms up into a most complicated love between them. They were achingly interesting; I’d like to have a book all about their lives and adventures.

6. Why do the Club members refer to the living as the “Quick”?
One of the old meanings of “quick” is alive, and it’s pun on the shortness of the mortal life, compared to the vampire’s longevity. There’s another great bit of wordplay in the Alia calling themselves the “undid.” It’s a beautiful coinage–are they mispronouncing “undead”, or do they actually mean they are “undone”, i.e., ruined? It works both ways, and I just love it.

7. How does Mould change over the course of the book? Do you think he remains a man of science to the end?
Oh, Mould, you silly man! What is worse, to make the Exchange and surrender your humanity, or to be led on by the promise of the Exchange for decades, and lose your humanity with nothing to show for it? I liked Mould as a literary device–his diary entries filled in the picture for us of what the Club was up to, and any vampire set on dominating London needs a Renfield, right? As a character, he’s both evil and tragic. A man of science to the end? No, I think he stopped being a scientist somewhere in the middle; he continued making the motions of science, but he was a fanatic and a fool, unswervingly loyal the man who promised him everything, but only used him up, draining him to the very last drop.

8. Charlotte’s quiet life is altered drastically by the book’s events. In what ways does it change for the better?
She’s not mouldering away in a crumbling house in the country, acting as nursemaid and gardener and withering away into spinsterhood. She learned more about the world than she might have wanted, and she suffered terrible losses, but she also found love and happiness–and that wasn’t likely to come knocking on the door of Aiskew Hall.

9. Had you heard of a priest hole before reading THE QUICK? Why do you think Owen chose to begin and end the book there?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve read a lot of English history, and the Tudor period is a particular favorite. Plus, they feature as a plot device in any number of British mysteries–the killer is always hiding away in a priest hole, escaping through a priest hole, or stashing the murder weapon/loot/etc. in a priest hole.

The childhood accident foreshadows the fate of both James and Charlotte. More than that, it has a cradle-to-grave imagery. Here’s the child, accidentally locked away in a hidey-hole meant to preserve life; here is the wasted, ill, hunted vampire, being locked away to protect him from those who would destroy him. Full circle; do we really make any progress in life, or do we all go back to where we began?

10. The ending of THE QUICK seems to beg for a sequel. What do you think about it?
I’m in! We can be pretty sure James didn’t get out on his own–even if Charlotte’s ritual wasn’t 100% effective in putting him into vampire-stasis, the hole itself has him trapped. So who found him–friend or foe? Did they do away with him, or set him free? And if he’s free, what is he going to do with his restored un-life? Dun dun DUN!!

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Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

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Birmingham, Alabama is infested with malevolence. Prejudice and hatred have consumed the minds and hearts of its populace. A murderer, unimaginatively named “Harry the Hacker” by the press, has been carving up citizens with a hatchet. And from the church known as Chapelwood, an unholy gospel is being spread by a sect that worships dark gods from beyond the heavens.

This darkness calls to Lizzie Borden. It is reminiscent of an evil she had dared hoped was extinguished. The parishioners of Chapelwood plan to sacrifice a young woman to summon beings never meant to share reality with humanity. An apocalypse will follow in their wake which will scorch the earth of all life.

Unless she stops it…
(From the book jacket.)

Another mystical adventure for Lizzie Borden, another great read for us! I had a harder time losing myself in this one, for a few reasons, but it was still an excellent adventure. I really enjoy the multiple points of view and epistolary style she writes these books in.

The stumbling blocks: for most of the book, the antagonists are Klansmen and members of an even scarier group calling themselves the “True Americans”–and as we are still infested with that sort of xenophobic, racist, “‘Murica for ‘Muricans!” mentality today, it kept pulling me out to the story and into current events. Of course, there are tentacled creatures from the depths of space working to invade our reality, as well, and when we finally got around to axing the creeps, it was very satisfying.

The choice to set the book 30 years after the first one, and to specify that Lizzie hadn’t experienced any otherworldly weirdness in the meantime, was disappointing. I had the hope that we were in for a whole series of Lizzie Borden, Monster Slayer, but the time gap precludes that, and the end of the book suggests we may have seen the last of Lizzie’s adventures.

The upsides: while Lizzie is more on the sidelines in this book, she is still a kick-ass character, quite literally, and it was great to see her in action again. And if she has gone to a more restful place, well, I can’t begrudge her that. She’s suffered enough.

The delightful Inspector Simon Wolf is back, and while the door may have closed on Lizzie, there are hints of another one opening for Simon and a new protege–and if you’re going that direction, Ms. Priest, I’m coming along for the ride!

So, yes, my relationship with Chapelwood was more complicated than with Maplecroft, but it was still a great read, and a strong recommend. Fingers crossed this isn’t our last visit to the world of the Borden Dispatches!

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Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

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Bird Box

Bird Box
Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster? (From the book jacket.)

“I’m reading the most incredible book,” she said. “Really scary, can’t put it down, totally amazing.” That’s quite a recommendation coming from someone who writes horror herself.

“What is it?” I asked.

Bird Box—something horrible appears that if people see it, they go crazy. Like homicidally, suicidally crazy. No-one survives seeing the Thing. The only way to get by is to wear a blindfold when you go outside. So most of the world has died off, and there’s a woman with two small children, trying to reach a sanctuary she’s heard of. In a boat, 20 miles downriver, blindfolded. I keep thinking, there’s NO WAY he can sustain this, but it just goes on. It’s amazing.”

“That sounds terrifying and paranoia-inducing.”

“It is, and it’s awesome. You have to read it.”

“I want to! But I’ll save it for RIP this year, it sounds perfect.” Books have seasons, to me, and reading one at the wrong time of year can ruin an otherwise great read.

I was away, and she was keeping an eye on the house for me.

“I left you some books on the kitchen table, if you’re interested,” I said.

“I left YOU some books on the kitchen table. Mwa hah hah!” she answered.

I got home, and there it was, the creepy, compelling, don’t–open-your-eyes Bird Box.

“Thank you!” I said. “Can I keep this until October? RIP, you know. Perfect book for it.”

“Of course,” she answered, gracious and patient about spreading the madness. An expert bider of time, that one.

I read it, disbelieving. How could he sustain it? A person—any person—would HAVE to open their eyes at some point; the urge to know would overpower their fear sooner or later. Also, side note, this would be a great audiobook to listen to. You could test yourself, see how long you could keep your eyes closed as you listen to the world end.

“I would never survive,” I said. “I would have to open my eyes, sooner or later. I would have to know.”

“Oh yeah, me, too,” she answered.

“How long, really, do you think you would last before you had to look?” I asked.

“Two minutes?” she hazarded.

“Yeah. I just couldn’t not know.”

Years ago, I read a quote from Stephen King, talking about The Stand (I think), that went along the lines of, “It’s an apocalypse, and those are always comforting, because everyone thinks they would survive, and with everyone else gone, they would get all their stuff.” Which is funny, and deeply insightful. Apocalyptic literature is fun, and oddly comforting, as we imagine how we’ll survive—-what skills and resources we have that make us valuable to a community of survivors, or how we’ll go it alone and finally get some peace and quiet (and get all those books read, right?) But this apocalypse, no; no surviving it for me—I would have to know. In fact, I have a mental image of what they look like, based on absolutely nothing; I can’t even think where the weird, membranous, bony creatures I’m imagining came from, but they’re there. And I would have to know if I was right.

That’s the real terror, here: as fans of the genre, we’re inquisitive about the unknown, willingly peering into dark recesses, fearlessly pursuing footsteps into the night, bravely confronting horrors and looking them right in the eye—and in Bird Box, that’s when they get you. What a thriller of a book!

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Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

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The Delicate Dependency

Delicate Dependency

They are cool to the touch and alluringly beautiful in their ageless youth, and their fathomless eyes are the eyes which transfix. The secrets they guard are rendered in the iron doors and gothic traceries of Notre Dame. Their arts and science are the light of civilization. Their consciousness, so old, so vastly superior, stands vigil over human progress. They were the Illuminati; they are the vampire. The players in this story are: Dr. John Gladstone, a fashionable London virologist on the verge of altering history; his elder daughter Ursula, enticed by the lure of immortality; his younger daughter Camille, bereft of reason, bestowed with genius; and the Lady Hespeth, whose obession is a mask of the unimaginable. (From the book jacket.)

I’ve heard whispers and rumors about Michael Talbot’s The Delicate Dependency for years; it’s been the number one book on my Goodreads “Want to Read” list for as long as I’ve been a member. From time to time, I would search for it in the library’s system, and in used bookstores, and online–but if I ever found a copy for resale, it was wildly expensive. I left our meeting to fate, and fate took the form of my good friend Lee. When she said she owned a copy–a yellowed library discard that fell into her hands–I knew my turn to dance with this mysterious little novel had come.

The book had other ideas; rather than a stately waltz, this book led me on a merry chase–across London, through Paris, and on to the Italian countryside. All these years seeking the book, waiting for it, imagining what it would be like to read, I had formed an idea that it was something intimate and decadent, opium-soaked and opulent. Something psychological and sexy–and there are hints of this, but it’s much more an adventure and a mystery. It’s kidnappings and pursuits, masquerades and betrayals, captures and escapes, and a final confrontation that is surprising. Like, really astonishing. I may have shouted aloud at the final revelations. The vampires in this book maintain the attraction/repulsion dynamic that is at the core of the myth, but in a very different way from the usual sex and violence dichotomy. These vampires are appealing and confounding in their own special way.

And… I’ve already said too much. The best thing about reading The Delicate Dependency, after years of it dangling alluringly out of reach, was I didn’t really know a darned thing about it, so it took me completely unawares. I would like to leave you in the same state, so you can enjoy your own merry chase with the story in perfect innocence, when your turn comes.

And when you’ve read it, come back here, because we’ll have SO MUCH to talk about!

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Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

Image courtesy of Abigail Larson, used by permission.

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