Cherie Priest,
(Subterranean Press, 2015)

Cherie Priest's work caught my eye when she devised an astonishing series of American-based steampunk novels, dubbed the Clockwork Century series. Those books led me to read some of Priest's older works, which are more contemporary and supernatural in tone.

Jacaranda, a novella published earlier this year by Subterranean Press, crosses the line between those two worlds. Although set late in the time period of her Clockwork Century books -- and including a character overlap and occasional, vague references to that era's "zombie" problem -- Jacaranda is more of a supernatural thriller.

There's a hotel on Galveston, an island off the coast of the new state of Texas, where people are dying, often horribly -- and yet people who feel they're in danger don't (or can't) leave. A nun, then a priest and, finally, a Texas ranger all come to investigate. Meanwhile, a powerful hurricane is barreling down on the island, forcing most of the population to evacuate. For those at the Jacaranda Hotel, it's not clear which is more dangerous -- the howling winds outside, or whatever is hunting them in the hotel.

The book is brief, fewer than 200 pages, and it doesn't have much space to fully acquaint readers with its characters. But Jacaranda is less about characters and more about atmosphere, and you'll definitely get a sense of unease as you imagine treading the halls of that elaborate, well-appointed hotel and wonder who will be next.

The conclusion didn't quite gel for me -- the book leaves you with some unanswered questions that should have been answered -- but the atmosphere Priest builds is enough to keep me turning pages. Jacaranda is by no means the best book in the series (like Clementine before it, this book stands within the general framework of the series but outside the official chronology anyway) but it adds another layer of horror to that world.

book review by
Tom Knapp

14 November 2015

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