Lytherus Book Club: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest, part 1

book club header febWe’re half-way through February, so that means we’re also half-way through Cherie Priest’s amazingly creepy book Maplecroft. I can’t wait to delve into these characters and speculate on what’s happening. REMEMBER, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS in my review, as I’m assuming you’ve read this along with us.

Before we dig in, here’s the official summary:

maplecroftLizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one….

The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.

Up to this point of the book, a little over a month passes (March and April 1894), with a few chapters interspersed from one character’s point of view a year prior. The book is written in an interesting way, in that the story is told to us (mostly through letters, or something like a letter), vs us watching it play out live. Lots of reflections and opinions mix in with what happens. It’s really cool, and it definitely adds a distinctive late 1800’s voice to the book.

Let’s delve into the cast of characters. The book is told from the point of view (so far) of five different characters: Elizabeth (Lizzie/Lizbeth)Borden, Emma Borden, Nance O’Neil, Dr. Owen Seabury, and Professor Phillip Zollicoffer. Here’s the basic background info we learn:

Lizzie and Emma Borden

Lizzie and Emma are sisters, ten years apart (Lizzie early 30s, Emma early 40s). Their father and step-mother (mom died when they were young) were murdered a few years prior to the telling of this story. Lizzie did it, though she wasn’t found guilty. After the deaths they moved into a house they named Maplecroft. Emma is sickly, weak, and pretty much house-bound. Dr. Seabury pays them regular visits to monitor her health.

Lizzie is a bit of a bad-ass. There are these creepy monsters that sort of look like pasty humanish things that try to break into their house, and she has to kill them to protect Emma. She’s killed seven at this point. She kills them with an ax. She then burns the bodies in a hard-core furnace in their basement, since the horrible smell of them seems to attract more. Lizzie also does all sorts of weird ritualistic things to their home to try and prevent them from coming in. (For example, inserting nails into the doorways of the house. The creatures seem hurt by iron, though they’re not really fairies, from what she’s gathered from research).

There are also, hidden in the basement, enclosed in a metal box and buried in dirt under the floor boards, a collection of greenish sea glass of varying sizes. They seem to call to people’s mind and are creepy and evil, and they’re connected to these monsters somehow (we don’t know how yet). Lizzie keeps them hidden away, because even she sometimes is distracted by their call.

Emma is big-time into science, and writes lots of scholarly journals under a pen name (that seems male). She befriended Professor Zollicoffer, and they share their interests of biology.

Lizzie is in a relationship with Nance, who is an actress in another city, but they both seem in love with each other, and Nance comes to visit on a seemingly regular basis (Lizzie doesn’t want to leave Emma). Emma’s not a fan of Nance, thinks she’s too young and after Lizzie’s inheritance.

Nance O’Neil

Nance tolerates Emma, but doesn’t really like her. She’s really into Lizzie it seems. She wishes Lizzie would trust her with secrets, because she knows she’s keeping them. Especially about what’s in the basement of Maplecroft, since Lizzie is determined to keep it from her.

Professor Phillip Zollicoffer

He’s a professor of biology at Miskatonic University. He’s been in communication back and forth with Emma (though he knows her by her pen name), and they often share stories and interesting samples of various fauna. A year prior to the story of the book (around March 1893) she sent him an unidentifiable sea creature for him to look at. It reeks, and it’s weird. It slowly starts to possess him, and by December of 1893 he’s killing his co-workers because he said the sample told him to.

Dr. Owen Seabury

He encountered Lizzie and Emma’s step-mom the night she died two years prior, and she was really sick and creepy looking (it had been coming on for a while, but he hadn’t seen her recent to then and it shocked him). He defended Lizzie from the murder charges, and his testimonial is part of what got her off the hook. But he’s always wondered if he was right.

He’s asked to care for a boy who’s acting weird, and as time passes he’s seeing similarities between the boy’s look and the look of Step-mom Borden. Eventually the boy kills his godmother (his caretaker), and the godfather shoots him. When the doctor inquires, the godfather tells him a horrifying tale of the boy making noises like a machine under water, of him floating in the middle of his room, and of water running down walls, over beds, and into floorboards. The doctor believes him. The bodies are also a mess, and confirm the crazy story.

Okay. So, where does the story leave us at the half-way point? Dr. Seabury approached Emma and then Lizzie about the similarities between the boy and their stepmother. They slowly start confiding in each other with what they know, though it’s more on a surface-level right now. Nance is visiting, and she’s getting possessed by the sea glass stones in the basement. She steals the basement key from Lizzie after a passionate romp, and she’s putting sleeping potion into Lizzie’s tea so she can investigate the basement. Emma’s seen her creeping around the basement door though, and definitely thinks something is amiss.  And we haven’t heard from Dr. Zollicoffer since the December incident where he followed the voice of the thing that’s possessing him and killed some people. It’s the end of April now, and Emma realizes she hasn’t talked to the good professor in quite some time, so she decides to drop him a line.

Guys, this book is CREEPY. What the heck are these things? How are the sea glass stones and the slimy sample sent to the professor and the monsters all connected? Why do they keep showing up at Maplecroft? And how/why are people getting possessed? I cannot wait to keep reading and find out what exactly is going on.

Stay tuned for the next post at the end of the month, where I’ll delve into the second half of Maplecroft. And don’t forget to submit any questions you might have for Cherie, as we’ll be interviewing her at the end of the month about the book!


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