Review: Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches
Lizzie Borden is the town pariah of Fall River because she’s suspected of hacking her father and stepmother to death with an axe. Certainly she was acquitted at trial, but there’s more to the story than anyone knows. Well… her sister Emma knows, but she’s not telling. And together with their inheritance from their father, they buy a house outside of town, name it Maplecroft, and begin to research in privacy to discover what really happened.
Cherie Priest takes the original Lizzie Borden story (Wikipedia) and presents to us a alternate explanation of their parents’ deaths. What if the illness the Bordens experienced wasn’t simple food poisoning? What if it were something much more sinister? What if it were related to their deaths?
We learn pretty quick about the horrors Lizzie and her sister Emma must face. Strange creatures emerge from the ocean to try to enter their home and kill them. They’ve been attacked before and there are stories of locals dying from strange animal-like attacks. Because Lizzie and Emma keep to themselves as a result of distrust by the townspeople, they deal with the invasions as best they can. Lizzie has discovered that the creatures can’t stand iron, so uses her axe to kill them. And that the only way to keep them dead is to boil them in acid.
But what does this have to do with the death of her father and stepmother? Everything. As you will learn.
But it takes time to understand the details of this mystery. In the meantime, the poor women muddle along as best they can despite their isolation and Emma’s debilitating illness (consumption). They soon find an ally in Dr. Seabury, who’s been called to the scene of inexplicable deaths. Deaths that are eerily familiar to the Bordens…
MAPLECROFT: THE BORDEN DISPATCHES (Amazon) is told in letters (hence the ‘dispatches’) from the viewpoints of Lizzie, Emma, Dr. Seabury, Professor Zollicoffer, and Lizzie’s lover Nancy. Priest does a great job grounding her characters in their letters, and as a result I know and understand them. Lizzie’s grim determination. Emma’s scientific brilliance. Seabury’s desire to do the right thing. Zollicoffer’s decent into madness. Nancy’s awareness of Emma’s disapproval. None of them are perfect, with their own foibles and mistakes that lead to terrible consequences. These characters drive the story. You will remember them long after the book is over, for good or bad. My only question is the inclusion of “Inspector Wolfe” who seems to appear everywhere but doesn’t have bearing on the plot at large. Will be learn more about him in sequels? He’s sure mysterious and I want to know who he is–a modern Fox Moulder?
Fortunately, the setting and plot are as well done as the characters. Priest sets a gothic tone with flair. The majority of the novel takes place in and around the Maplecroft house, and it’s easy to visualize the rooms and what happens there as the characters interact and deal with the matter at hand. Of particular interest is the revelations regarding the origins of the creatures. Where did they come from? Why are they the vague shape of humans? Why do they come from the sea? Why do they react to the iron? How can they use this knowledge to defeat the creatures?
The letters propel the story forward as we learn details about the creatures and surrounding events. The only pitfall with this set-up is that it’s a little harder to keep track of what characters know verses others as they each learn their own part of the story. The story carries us clear to the exciting end. As with other horror stories, MAPLECROFT has its share of gore, gruesome deaths, and scary events. Horror lovers will enjoy it.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: None
- Violence: Yes, hacking up bodies, blood, scientific examinations
- Sex: A F/F romance with a short scene; other references