Originally published on The Nerd Daily.
When a Scottish businessman’s corpse is dredged from the bogs of the Thames, so begins the unfurling of the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, replete with all the depictions—both trope and true—of murder, corruption, and sexual fetishes that marked the period.
James Miller is dead, his body dumped in the river in an area of London which plays host to no respectable gentlemen and is the stomping ground of prostitutes, thieves, and other no-good types, all strung along the fishy quayside that is bordered in dark, dank water. When Miller’s untimely death is labeled a suicide, his daughter, Catriona, refuses to believe her father would have taken his own life and sets out instead to discover the truth about the true cause of his demise, as well as what he might have been doing in the London slums. Her investigation treks along two diverging and equally unsavory paths: one in which she discovers her father to be perhaps the most revolting of all the no-goods who she crosses on her journey further and further down the staircase of filth and despair of London’s darkest rabbit holes, and the other, which leads her to an even stranger and most ghostly end. Indeed, the story moves from murder mystery to ghost story when Catriona comes face to face with the Darkwater Bride herself, a woman who committed her soul to the murky water if she could live to exact vengeance on the men who’d put her there—men like Catriona’s father.
The narrative itself is somewhat stale and rambling, with a heroine that is often difficult to root for. Catriona spends a significant portion of her narrative trying to convince everyone—perhaps even herself—of her feminism, while her romantic interest (it’s almost unthinkable to imagine romantic interest in a story that bounces between child mutilation, sexual abuse, rape, and bizarre fetishes, but it’s there—as well it should be, as only when confronted with the worst evils of humanity might we crave the comfort of another), rookie detective Culley, mostly bumbles about, torn between his sense of duty to his commanding officer and the siren lure of the young woman he is driven to help. Unfortunately, even poor Culley’s good intentions don’t do him much good in the end. In fact, none of the characters are terribly likeable with the exception of the Darkwater Bride herself, which is a powerful device on its own: We turn our favor away from the innocent, stick our noses up at the obvious antagonists, and, in the end, pledge our loyalty to a woman with a fatal kiss and a drowning vengeance, because of all the darkness in this book, hers is perhaps the most recognizable—the most relatable to our own.
If you can overlook Catriona’s constant whinging and Culley’s cringe-worthy naivety, as well as moments of deep and utter grossness, there is a strangely astute depiction of the contrary nature of sexual empowerment and entrapment lurking between the lines of The Darkwater Bride. From brothel prostitutes and madams to the women who perform in the clubs, to even Catriona and the Darkwater Bride herself, theirs is the story more compelling than that of a hedonistic, repulsive man who meets his worthy end. Instead of a ghostly murder mystery, The Darkwater Bride might be better suited as a tiptoed traipse down the thin line women walk between being predator and prey when they are left with nothing other than their bodies to defend themselves. It’s not a story of death and decay, but one of survival.
At times distasteful and never for the faint at heart, The Darkwater Bride is a bit wobbly, though punctuated by passages of delicate prose so exceedingly beautiful and haunting that it makes a sharp juxtaposition against the rougher parts of the story. What truly elevates the tale, however, is the quality of the production. Dark, gritty, and atmospheric, this Audible production is filled with deviances the likes of which this reviewer hasn’t seen since Karen Moline’s Belladonna (1998). Regardless, the production is simultaneously so disturbing and oddly intriguing that at the end you’ll definitely need a shower, but you’ll listen eagerly for the full six hours before finding the will to pull yourself (somewhat guilty) away from the speaker. It’s horrifying and yet bizarrely invigorating—a story that is as powerful as it is visceral, so that in the end, the reader—like Catriona—might stand defiantly against the darkness and wait in the night like a single white flame against the dark, the very essence of The Darkwater Bride.
Originally published on The Nerd Daily.
A post-apocalyptic fairy tale featuring a biracial, bisexual, axe-toting kickass handicapped woman who’s not about to be a victim to any big bad wolf? Sign. Me. Up.
It all began with the Cough, an infectious, air-borne disease that could kill even the healthiest person in twenty-four hours flat. Like any good world-ending virus, the Cough spread quickly, decimating the modern world and quickly pivoting humanity’s few survivors—mostly those immune or who’d somehow managed to hide, literally, from the virus—into a new world where resources are scarce and survival is contingent on one’s ability to find enough food and shelter to stay alive, all the while avoiding both infection and the worst of all monsters: other humans. It’s a post-apocalyptic fairy tale set in the new future, though for Red the dangers lurking around the corner are ones that have plagued mankind for centuries: intolerance, fear, hubris, power-seeking, and various other destructively antisocial behaviours. (There’s a monster, too, but its existence somewhat pales in comparison.)
Cordelia—or as she prefers to be called, Red—is a biracial, bisexual survivalist with a penchant for science fiction and horror, and a prosthetic leg. She’s also the sole survivor of her family—her white father, black mother, and older brother all having been…lost…to various consequences of the Cough that hit a little too close to home to be entirely fiction. Come hell, high water, or copious amounts of treacherous hiking, Red is determined to make it to her grandmother’s house—which waits three hundred short miles away—without being gobbled up by any wolves, literal or figurative, along the way. She’s determined and resilient, without being unapproachable or unrelatable. In fact, quite the opposite, Red persists as the embodiment of all the better parts of humanity that have disappeared in the wake of the Curse. She’s fierce, but fair. Strong, but compassionate. And she’s always, always prepared. In fact, if there’s another woman I’d want to be traipsing through the apocalypse with, you bet your picnic basket it’s Henry’s Red Riding Hood.
An author with a special knack for refitting classic fairytales into modern tales, Christina Henry’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in The Girl in Red reads as dreamily as the fairytale it was inspired by, but takes a poignant look at some of today’s most pressing social issues—racism, women’s rights, and even the power of government in a world where the balance between control and protection is as razor thin as the sharp edge of Red’s axe. It’s a fable fit for the current age, when the space between science fiction and reality is often blurry, and the monsters we fear most are the ones waiting within ourselves for a chance to pounce.
Lindy Miller Ryan is an author, editor, and spooky things enthusiast who occasionally makes crafty things and bakes.