book reviews by Althea

Maplecroft – Cherie Priest ****

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(The Borden Dispatches, #1)

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Up front: I’m adding a star for personal reasons. I was born in Fall River, and as an older child, moved to Providence, so a Lovecraftian Lizzie Borden tale feels like it was created just for me!

‘Maplecroft’ begins after Lizzie has been legally exonerated for the axe murders of her parents, although suspicion in town still rides high against her. She lived a somewhat isolated life, caring for her frail and sickly sister, Emma. Their main “social” contact is with Emma’s doctor. Aside from her quotidian tasks, Lizzie spends her time dispatching semi-aquatic inhuman monsters that keep nosing around the house – and spending time in her basement laboratory investigating what these malefic mysteries might be.
Meanwhile, her sister Emma busies herself with correspondence and investigations under her secret alter-ego identity: the renowned but reclusive marine biologist E.A. Jackson.

Now, Priest plays loose in this book not only with reality and history, but with geography. An awful lot is switched around to fit her tale, to the point where using the historical characters seems almost besides-the-point. I was OK with doing away with the servants who lived in the Borden mansion in order to accentuate the sisters’ isolation, but I did wish that the time period and sense of place had been more carefully crafted.

At the time that this novel is set, Fall River was a bustling mill town. It was in the middle of a major boom – within Lizzie’s lifetime, the population had increased five-fold. It was the textile center of the USA, known as ‘Spindle City.’ The character of the community had quickly changed as well, with a major influx of French-speaking immigrants from Canada. Not one iota of any of that is referenced in the book. Instead, the town feels sleepy and quiet, with a relentlessly British feel (with the exception of Lizzie’s Irish ‘friend’ who comes to visit from New York.)

In addition, a major theme of the book centers around the ocean. There are multiple descriptions of crashing waves, walking along the shore picking up ‘sea glass’ and other sea life, etc. Too bad Fall River is not actually on the ocean. It has waterfront, yes, but if you run down to the water from the Borden mansion at 306 French St, you’re on the Taunton River, not even Mount Hope Bay. It’s near Battleship Cove, a location chosen for its calm waters and lack of crashing waves.

These things made me go “hmmph.”
Regardless, I still very much enjoyed the tale, and will be promptly moving on to the just-released sequel.

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