Southern gothic weekend

Mostly, I am writing this to torment Emily (when she is finally back from vacation) with more books that she will definitely want to read. Mwahahahaha.

So, my Powells delivery arrived on Friday, and amongst its treasures were Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest and Low Red Moon by Caitlin Kiernan. 

Four and Twenty Blackbirds stays definitely within the realm of gothic. Dark family secrets, an abandoned hospital, watchful ghosts and murderous relatives, all brought together in a bloody ending. The heroine, Eden, is strong and curious, sure of herself enough to chase answers to her life’s questions but carrying at least a knife with her along the way. Her mother died at her birth and no one seems to know who her father was. Despite that, Eden is no tragic figure. She is brought up by her aunt Lulu (“the goddess”) and husband and has an ostensibly happy life. Except that, when little Eden is asked to draw a picture of an imaginary place, she adds the ghosts of three women to it, figures that push their way through from her dreams:

But once in a while the ghost women would cry, and I’d find myself inserting their six searching eyes into plastic-wrap windows, or cotton-ball clouds, or watercolor trees.

I wanted to make sure they could see me. 

There’s an omnipresent sense of threat that Priest plays with very convincingly. As a reader, I never dared relax in case a shock was round the corner, and it was there often enough to justify the sustained suspense.

That was the light read. By the time I’d finished Low Red Moon, which was late on Sunday night, alone in the house, I was glad I don’t have nightmares; although I’m fairly sure that nothing my prosaic subconscious could conjure would be anything like the gritty urban fantasy horror that Kiernan works with.

There’s no messing around with a gradual build up in Low Red Moon. The violence comes at you hard, fast and brutal, there won’t be a happy ending and there will be pain and horror along the way. This is the opening sentence:

The motel room smells like blood and shit and air freshener, the aerosol can sitting empty on top of the television set and the air in the room still smells like blood. Spring Heather, the purple can promises, and Narcissa Snow has never smelled spring heather but she’s pretty sure it doesn’t smell like an abattoir.

I think that gives you the picture. The room smells of blood because Narcissa, who is either a werewolf or thinks she is, has been serial-killing her way south, eating the choice parts of her victims and adding their voices to the others in her head. Her plan on pitching up in Birmingham, Alabama, is to steal the as yet unborn baby of Deke and Chance (both last seen in Threshold), so she can give it to the ghouls so that they’ll let her join the club. No, Narcissa is in no way in touch with reality. The ghouls don’t want her.

So, this is really Deke’s fault because as a gifted psychic he helped the police track down a woman who was stealing children a couple of years ago and (I think) giving them to the ghouls. Narcissa is out to get vengeance on Deke, and it’s down to Deke to save his wife, child and himself, if only he can keep off the bottle. A couple of funny customers known as Starling Jane and Scarborough Pentecost are offering to help, but what’s in it for them, and who are they anyway? Meanwhile Chance doesn’t believe in any of this psychic crap at all, let alone women who might be werewolves. 

Blimey. There is lots of violence, lots of swearing and the pace never lets up. Those noises in the dark? In Kiernan’s world, they really are monsters and they are breaking in.

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4 thoughts on “Southern gothic weekend

  1. Emily Barton

    Well, your plan to torment me has worked. Shit! Here I am, stuck in Maine, where there is a very cute little independent bookstore that I love, but I am sure they have neither one of these books. I can’t order them till I get back. But, hey, I’m getting back just in time for October and Halloween — my favorite month and holiday and the perfect time to read such things.

  2. musingsfromthesofa Post author

    Litlove and Zoesmom – didn’t mean to scare you!
    Emily – you could always drive back via CT and borrow…

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