Part of becoming a good writer is feeding the good reader inside. In this, I’ve been horribly negligent, as my wife is wont to (frequently) remind me. A writer must read and I have not done that much lately. That’s not to say I don’t want to read, but I’m trying to hold off on delving into other works of Steampunk as much as possible, so I know I’m not contaminating my own creative process with other people’s worlds or -even worse- duplicating what they’ve already done. Once I’m done with the first book, I feel my process will have already fleshed out the universe my characters inhabit enough to be suitable unique so that I can start reading more diligently again. That being said, I felt is safe enough to read Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft recently. It is not necessarily a steampunk story but it is appropriate to the timeline of my novels and Cherie Priest is well-known for her own steampunk-genre work, so I felt safe reading it.
Maplecroft is best described as a horror novel, giving a fictional reason for the historical case of Lizbeth Borden’s murderous spree upon her father and step-mother. The real cause? Dark and sinister forces from the beginning of time intent on reclaiming an impudent mankind. The story is told through a series of journal entries and mail correspondence and represents what feels like the first volume or a larger series, which I find exciting.
Priest’s tale is a dark one and I was suitably pleased that even in ‘victory’ Lizzie and her cohorts did not win. In the end, the heroes are broken in every way possible, as one is likely to be when squaring off against powers beyond human comprehension or ability. It is a refreshing and highly nuanced interpretation of the standard Cthulhuian horror yarn while remaining true to the spirit of a typical Lovecraftian tale.
I found Priest’s work to be precise. Her usage of words was exact, wasting nothing without feeling sparse. It is an object lesson is using the right words in the right way and not being overly flowery. I felt everything that the author wanted me to feel and could see -with clarity- the world her characters inhabited. I felt the claustrophobic lives of the Borden sisters juxtaposed to the sheer enormity of the world and the foes they faced. It was a purposefully tiny world and their desperate attempts to fight against an implacable enemy while trying -and failing- to maintain what lives they had was both visceral and tragic.
Her characters were real and flawed and made horribly flawed decisions that were at the same time completely relatable. It is inspiring and humbling that her characters felt like a person and not a caricature, a hero or villain ‘suit’ that the author filled with tension and exposition to narrate their tale but without feeling they are an actual person. Its a problem I sense I may suffer from and inspires me to take a more critical eye (and pen) to my main characters.
As always, Cherie Priest is an excellent read and is well worth the time and money.