Review: Chapelwood

One of my favourite books of 2015 was Maplecroft, which was a wonderful melancholic Lovecraftian horror tale starring a queer Lizzie Borden with great atmosphere. I was very excited to read the sequel, hoping that it would be as good as its predecessor.

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Birmingham, Alabama is a hotbed of prejudice and hatred. A serial killer stalks the streets, hacking couples apart with an axe, while in the church known as Chapelwood, worshipers seek to summon beings from beyond the stars. The darkness calls to Lizzie Borden, who arrives in town searching for someone thought long lost, but she doesn’t have much time, for the parishioners of Chapelwood seek to sacrifice a woman to summon beings never meant to share space with humanity, unless her and her allies stop them in time.

This book takes place some time after Maplecroft, Lizzie Borden is now much older and Emma has passed on. Since her passing, Lizzie has lived a life of quiet isolation, whereas Inspector Wolf has returned to Boston. A third prominent character is Ruth Gussman, who finds herself in a precarious position when her father falls in with the Chapelwood crowd, who, as you might expect, are up to no good.

Given H.P. Lovecraft’s stance on racial issues, it’s ironic (and likely this is intentional) that the source of the unrest (Lovecraftian or otherwise) are racists in general and the KKK in particular, like Maplecroft, this book also drips with atmosphere, with Storage Room Six being particularly unnerving, especially if you find yourself constantly losing track of things or you work in an environment that uses large storage facilities.

While I enjoyed this book, I found it to be much slower than Maplecroft. There’s a little bit of action towards the end, but the bulk of the book is concerned with a trial and its aftermath. In that sense, it reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird meets Cthulhu. I also found that the ending was a bit anticlimactic. I read somewhere that Cherie Priest didn’t intend to write a sequel to Maplecroft, and that’s definitely reflected in this book. It’s not an awful book by any means, it just could have used a bit more action. I feel like part of the reason for this underwhelming feeling is the lack of Lizzie in general in this story. She’s definitely present, but the focus has shifted largely to Inspector Wolf and Ruth, and while they aren’t bad characters, Lizzie’s absence in this story is definitely felt.

For a book with racism and prejudice as major themes, there’s a definite lack of characters of colour. The most prominent is Pedro, but as he is a day labourer, we don’t get to see much of him. Speaking of racism, the book also uses historically accurate but racist language to describe people of colour in general and black people in particular, and derogatory terms to describe Catholics.

I feel like I should say more about this book, but the fact of the matter is that it didn’t leave as strong as an impression on me as Maplecroft. Maplecroft was one of my favourite books that I read in 2015, but unfortunately this one kind of fell flat. That said, I am interested in future books from this author, and hopefully you’ll see more reviews of her works on this blog in the months to come.

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