Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one....
The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.
But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.
This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.
Lizbeth "Lizzie" Andrew Borden wields her axe against Lovecraftian entities in this terrifying and powerful series launch by fan favorite Priest (the Clockwork Century series). Two years after Lizzie infamously slew her mother and stepfather, she and her consumptive, scholarly older sister, Emma, remain in their hometown of Fall River, Mass., in an isolated and modified home called Maplecroft. Lizzie spends countless hours in her basement laboratory, trying to understand what transformed the Bordens into horrifying creatures, while protecting and caring for Emma and conducting a love affair with actress Nance O'Neil. Then Emma, who poses as "Dr. E.A. Jackson" to contribute to the men-only world of science, sends a biological sample to colleague Phillip Zollicoffer at Miskatonic University, with terrible consequences. Readers will be intrigued by the weird monsters and 19th-century science, but the story is really carried by the characters' emotional dynamics, especially those between the Borden sisters.
A new twist on an old tale. I thought the story enjoyable and the writing good. I wasn't too fond of the ending and the hanging plot threads but I'm still very glad I read the book.
A macabre masterpiece: One of Priest’s finest
The tale of Lizzie Borden has so many unknowns, leaves so many unanswered questions. Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches by Cherie Priest is the first novel in a series that aims to fill in these blanks, to tell the whole of the life of Lisbeth Andrew Borden.
Maplecroft might be best described as a spectacular work of historical horror fiction; historical people, places, given a heavy dose of horror. Cherie Priest is one of today's best historical fantasy/horror fiction writers, she so deftly blends fiction with American history that the fiction tends to feel more real than it otherwise might. Maplecroft could be her best work.
The story of Maplecroft is told through journal entries, letters and news clippings, all popular forms of communication in the 1800s. Much of what we know about that period of American history is through found documents, people put their thoughts to paper, they kept journals, diaries, sat down to write correspondence. Unlike today's glut of shaky-cam "video diary" films, Maplecroft only felt more authentic through the use of this device. The story never felt forced or cliche.
We learn that strange things are happening in Fall River, that the Borden family spent many weeks wracked with illness before Lizzie took up her axe. We learn that at its worst, aside from nausea, vomiting, a strange glazing of the eyes, a sort of madness occurs, violent madness that touched the Borden parents. When Lizzie took up her axe, it was an act of preservation, not just for herself, but for Emma, her defenseless elder sister. This illness is confirmed in the journal of town physician, Doctor Owen Seabury, who attempted to treat the Borden's, but to no avail. He knew something was very wrong, something he'd never seen. After the murders, he was Lizzie's strongest defender, not because he felt she was necessarily innocent, but because of an incident during which he witnessed the feral transformation in Lizzie's step-mother. He felt something unnatural, even dangerous, especially dangerous. That was in 1892. In 1894, the Borden sisters have taken residence at Maplecroft, with Doctor Seabury as their only regular visitor in the role of Emma's personal physician. With this ominous beginning, the stage is set for the horror to come.
The Problem, as it is often called, re-surfaces and begins to spread, Doctor Seabury sees symptoms around town. Strange shark-like creatures attack Maplecroft, Lizzie grows quite adept at killing. Lizzie and Emma spend their days trying to understand the creatures, The Problem, hopping desperately to stop it before it consumes them, before Fall River is overrun, before it spreads across the entire country, maybe the entire world. Lzzzie pours over strange arcane books, trying to find facts buried in lore and myth. Emma tackles The Problem through pure science, studying nature, marine biology. Both Lizzie and Emma have reason to believe that the sea is the source of the taint that's infecting Fall River. Doctor Owen Seabury struggles to maintain his sanity, his years of medical training feeling utterly useless. Each character's writing feels more desperate with each passing day, the journal and diary entries show their stress, their fear, with such clarity. Reading the book is often an intimate experience, as if reading the private thoughts of actual people, not fictional characters.
I haven't read everything Cherie Priest has ever written, but I've read most of it. In terms of pure craft, Maplecroft is probably her best work so far, her prose often gorgeous. Whenever I read, I love highlighting beautiful passages, writing margin notes. While Priest's stories are always well-written and absolutely a blast to read, I've never highlighted any of her writing until Maplecroft.
If you're looking for a beautifully written story of horror, genuine stuff of nightmare, Maplecroft is the story for you. Cherie Priest did her homework on Lizzie Borden and the time in which she lived. Combine such research with her vivid imagination, and she delivers a truly unique macabre masterpiece of fully realized characters given weight through historical accuracy.
For fans of the weird, Maplecroft is a must read. I can't wait for the next of the Borden Dispatches.