Lizzie Borden and her older, disabled sister Emma live in Fall River, Massachusetts. A few years back, they went through trying times when their parents died in an unexpected and rather gruesome manner. Despite the trial and a verdict of innocent, Lizzie is still treated with suspicion by the townsfolk. Hence, Emma and Lizzie moved to a manor house, Maplecroft, on the outskirts of town. While their parents may have been the first to succumb to a madness that originates from the depths of the sea, they are not the last. Hence, the need for Lizzie’s axe.
This tale was rich in character development and suspense. Indeed, I felt it shared a kinship with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The tale opens slowly as one becomes acquainted with Lizzie and Emma. The story is told through a series of journal entries and personal letters, giving the narration a very personal note. With each letter, each journal entry, we got another small glimpse that something wasn’t quite right. Emma, a renowned biologist (although she has to use a male pen name in this time period of late 1800s), studies the progression of the madness and ultimately the creatures themselves. Lizzie, having to take a more practical stand, has muscles gained from the need to swing an axe (for wood or defense), carry her disabled sister from room to room when she is ill, and the general running of a manor house. She doesn’t understand the evil madness but she vows to end it.
As we delve deeper into the story, we become more aware of the connection to the ocean and the madness – the great need for the water, the avoidance of bright light, the heavy desire to venture to the seashore. This is where tiny tendrils of Lovecraftian horror start to entangle themselves into the plot. The lengthy build up is worth the mystery as we gain further knowledge via the Fall River doctor and his strange encounters with the afflicted.
The tale also has a simple romance on the side. Let me say that one of the main characters is homosexual, and it is no big deal. Sure, some of the characters have time period views, but those views don’t permeate the story. It was very well done and so refreshing to see a main character, a full, well-rounded, character doing all these plot-oriented things, who just happens to also be gay.
I loved this book; didn’t want to put it away. I thoroughly enjoyed the build up of suspense and the bioscience. I liked that the center of the mystery was so vast and not completely discernible by the characters. I had the pleasure of hearing Priest talk about this book and about how she wasn’t too keen on writing a sequel. As an impresed reader, I am very glad to hear that there will indeed be a sequel. Thank you Ms. Priest!
The Narration: The narration was also excellent. Having two readers to pass back and forth the male and female parts brought out the richness of the personal letters and journal entries. The regional accents came through clearly. Both Mitchell and Wayne imbued the characters with a range of emotions, as the story demanded.