I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions that horror is probably my favourite genre – Ghost Stories more than Zombies – but I tend to find that it’s done badly an awful lot, which upsets me greatly! A good horror should be subtle and building, and full of atmosphere. When I was sent a proof of Amy Lakavic’s debut novel, the people at Simon & Schuster described it as “Little House on the Prairie meets The Excorcist”, and so obviously I was very interested.
Last Winter, Amanda saw something in the snow from her family’s tony cabin on the mountainside. Her parents are convinced it was nothing more than the result of intense cabin fever, the six of them cooped up in the winter snow drifts, but Amanda knows that she saw the Devil himself, and his festering evil has never left her soul since. This Winter, with a new sickly baby, her Father decides it’s time for the family to move from the isolated mountain to the flatter, less treacherous prairie. It could be a chance for Amanda to escape the hellish evil that she feels stalking her in the forest. When they arrive at their new cabin, though, they find it covered in stagnant blood. Has Amanda brought something with her, or is there evil everywhere?
Wow, Daughters Unto Devils gets horror perfectly. It’s character driven, evocative and so powerfully atmospheric and it builds with a slow, deliberate sense of dread. Amanda is a torn, realistically written girl, full of darkness and hope – I love how much more flawed she is than her sister, Emily, and her self-doubts help build her into a character and narrator that we really root for. The strict, overbearing religious parents are also painfully twisted, all pure upfront but with layers of aggressive, hateful misery beneath them.
The atmosphere is where the book really shines, though, with a real sense of bleak isolation and hopelessness. The horror is unfolded gradually, using Amanda’s unease and slow descent into paranoia to build it up to staggering proportions. It twists everyday events and throws in some deeply unsettling one shots – particularly the baby standing in the long grass of the prairie. The final few chapters though are horrifically gripping and I raced through them with wide eyes as the levels of violence and awful, horrific events ramped up to make every page an exploration in dark, twisted imagery that sticks in the reader’s brain.
I also really like that Lukavics explores some really important issues in this book, including the ideas of teen pregnancy, miscarriage and guilt, and I found it so brilliant that it’s a story driven by a decisive, emotionally articulate girl, and her friendship with her sister is so powerful. Like any good Horror story, it’s all about show, not tell, and it uses its character’s psychology to get the creepy feel right into our brains.
Thanks for Reading, as always,
P.S. The book does contain some potentially upsetting scenes, and so it definitely requires a Trigger Warning.