If you like Lovecraftian horror and the 1800s, this is a fantastic read. Building on the Lizzie Borden case and turning her into a fictional hero is a unique approach, but this is so much better than a simple rewrite with horror elements added like Mad Libs. Very engaging characters and a writing style that keeps building tension and mystery. I appreciated the letter format for each chapter, written by various characters, in the style of Dracula. This enhances the Victorian feel appropriate to the setting. Priest certainly did her research, but she doesn’t club you with it. The novel is smooth and clear even for readers less obsessed with the Victorian era than I am.
The language, tone, setting — its all well written. Despite some characters needing more development, the book is overall a fantastic weird fiction tale full of detailed crime scenes, otherworldly horror, and action. The mystery is legitimately fascinating. Certainly one of Cherie Priest’s best novels that I’ve read so far.
So why would I rate it four stars instead of a full five?
It’s a matter of preference I suppose, but the ending is designed to setup a sequel. I like the idea of more books in this world, but the way it ends does make me wonder how an effective sequel can come about.
Despite Priest’s efforts, I didn’t have much sympathy for Lizzie in her crisis with Nance. Their relationship was fine, but it wasn’t painted as deep enough for me to really care about Nance herself beyond the damsel in distress. Emma and Dr. Seabury are very cool characters, but the ending implies neither will join Lizzie on further adventures. The sequels may prove me wrong — I prefer to go into books without spoilers — but the feeling at the end is that Lizzie is destined to be our ongoing protagonist alone.
I do plan to read more in the series, so this review may update as I go along.