Originally posted on The Nerd Daily.
New to audiobook, Laura Morrison’s Come Back to the Swamp is the spooky, swampy, supernatural solution to your June novella-audiobook needs!
Half space-opera, half ecological manifesto, Morrison weaves fantasy, science fiction, and a chilling atmosphere into a punch-packing novella that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The story follows ecology-grad student Bernice as she discovers a strange old woman orbiting the swamps of Cleary Swamp, a local research site where Bernice is studying invasive species. Convinced the woman is a former civil rights activist named Rebecca who disappeared in the swamp decades earlier, Bernice believes the woman is as in need of salvation as the swamp itself, which has become riddled with things like Asiatic ivy that don’t belong. Bernice takes it upon herself to relocate the woman into safer territory. What she doesn’t realise, however, is that Asiatic ivy isn’t the only invasive species in Cleary Swamp—and the Swamp has had enough.
Suffice it to say, Bernice’s extraction of Rebecca…doesn’t go as planned. After a stint into a spore and pollen drug-induced state during which she enjoys a warp speed odyssey on the set of her favourite operatic sci-fi tv show, Space Mantis, Bernice awakens with a new clarity and understanding of the swamp’s needs. Though certainly jarring for Bernice, it’s hard not to miss Morrison’s deeper message, a fitting allegory to the sort-of “awakening” many environmentally-conscience folks might have: sometimes—despite our best intentions to the contrary--we are the invasive species. When it comes to preserving the order of the natural world, sometimes it’s humans that simply don’t belong.
Swamps and spooks aside, what makes Come Back to the Swamp such an engaging and resonant story is Morrison’s interpretation of main protagonist. A bit of an idealist, Bernice is snarky, headstrong, and courageous, and her inner monologue is so on point it’s hard not to feel instantly connected. Although we only get a few pages of Bernice, she’s an easy character to champion, empathise with, and—eventually—commiserate for. Likewise, narrator Chelsea Stephens is the perfect voice to bring Morrison’s words to life. She is just as able to capture Bernice’s snark and the Swamp’s ominous warnings as she is to convincingly voice the inner musings of the bobcats Bernice worries might roam the swamplands. Together, this audiobook is three hours of pure listening pleasure, and a story readers will want to return to time and time again.
Gripping, evocative, and as ripe with messaging on the consequences of ecological devastation as it is loaded with sci-fi references, subtle calls to environmental activism, and enough chilly moments to have you looking over your shoulder on your next hike out into the woods, Come Back to the Swamp will have readers (and listeners!) looking over their shoulders the next time they go walking alone out into the wild.
Originally posted on The Nerd Daily.
In the new Audible audio academy production Heads Will Roll, Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live, Ghostbusters) lends her voice as Queen Mortuana, a “psychopathic tyrant with a kingdom on her shoulders” who, along with her delightfully ditzy minion—a former princess named JoJo (voiced by Emily Lynne) who was cursed to become a raven on her sixteenth birthday—must try to preserve her kingdom, and her rule, from the threat of a peasant uprising.
It starts in much the way that many fairytales do: with the issuance of a deliciously mundane and vague prophecy that promises Mortuana’s eventual overthrow. Peasants are planning a revolt, and the evil queen must find the mystical “Shard of Acquiescence” that will subvert their plans so she can get back to things like enjoying her —er— boyfriends and lopping off anyone’s head who offends her (“No, and fuck you for asking. Off with your head….and put her heart in a box as well”). Of course, its not a fairytale without a quest. Mortuana and JoJo must not only find the shard, but must do so navigating bad romances, weird fetishes, sexual tension with unlikely gods, strange creatures, calls from mothers, and even managing fake news and a political uprising led by Bernabus Fanders (ahem), a “120-year-old tub of whitefish salad.” Fanders has, unlikely as it seems, risen up to lead a rebellion against Queen Mortuana on a platform of equality and basic human rights (“Like he’s ever seen the business end of a bathtub—strop trying to convince us that you’ve bathed”)—an outrageous and yet shockingly accurate look through the magic looking glass at today’s often-zany political climate. Naturally, Bernabus (and any resemblance of reason) is quickly dispatched as the ongoing rebellion descends into the kind of shenanigans and celebrity endorsements we’ve come to expect in media coverage today.
A fairytale for adults that is ripe with both quintessential storybook elements but with enough tongue-in-cheek social critique and witty punning (There are medieval infomercials! Bards! Probably virgins! Support groups for the recently cursed!) to make it distinctly modern, Heads Will Roll is an auditory masterpiece fit for (an evil) queen. But be warned: this isn’t a fairytale you want your kids to hear. Featuring a sketch comedy-vibe and an ensemble cast that includes the voice talents of Meryl Streep, Tim Gunn, Peter Dinklage, and Carol Kane, Heads Will Roll is an adult comedy. Not only is the subject matter itself mature, but the humour is also rather crude, running the gamut from what might be chuckle-worthy after a glass of wine to what will have you struggling to draw breath between guffaws around the bottom of the rum barrel. Still, above all else, this is a tale about sisterhood, about power and powerlessness, and about friendship—and, of course, with something of a happy ending.
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.
Lindy Miller Ryan is an author, editor, and spooky things enthusiast who occasionally makes crafty things and bakes.