Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: Bloom

Author: Delilah S. Dawson

Publisher: Titan Books

Release date: 3rd October 2023

Bloom

Reviewed by: Ian Hunter

Other details: Hardback, £12.09

Bloom by Delilah S. Dawson

Ian Hunter

Delilah S. Dawson is better known to me as the author of “Star Wars: Phasma” and some other Star Wars titles, as well as books involving characters from the Marvel and Firefly universes, but she has also written Minecraft books and given Snow White a twist in Disney’s “Mirrorverse” series with the novel “Pure at Heart”. Here, with the short novel, “Bloom”, she is firmly in horror territory. Or is she? Because truth be told, “Bloom” is a bit of a slow burner, building in romance and intrigue, with a seasoning of dread and red flags until the horror is finally revealed.

Rosemary “Ro” Dutton is a 27-year-old Assistant Professor of Literature at a small-town college who has decided that she is over with men, end of story. In order to take her mind off things, she visits a farmer’s market as a distraction. Still, she has no idea how distracted she will become as she encounters a booth run by Ashlyn Gund, or Ash, who sells soap, cupcakes, candles, honey and plants. Ash tempts Ro with a cupcake, which Ro finds delicious, almost as delicious as Ash herself, as she finds herself attracted to Ash. She has never felt this way about another woman before, and pretty soon, her attraction will become obsession and all-consuming, taking over her thoughts and actions. She is hungry for Ash and wants to consume her, and wants to be consumed in return.

Dawson tells the story in lush, dreamy-prose, almost fairy-tale-like, and with the farmer’s market setting, I couldn’t help myself thinking of Christina Rosetti’s poem “Goblin Market”, where bargains are to be sealed, and mistakes are to be made. The lush story-telling is eventually set aside as things take a darker turn, and the pace quickens as the horror mounts in simple, chilling prose as we get shocking revelation after shocking revelation until it is over, and you close the book and wonder what you have just read there, and how much sense it made. There are hints and clues throughout the novel about where this is going, and probably some misdirection, too, but the reader can only accompany Ro and learn what she learns when she learns it, and there is no escape for Ro or the reader. Dawson previously wrote about the horror of domestic abuse and controlling behaviour in her story “The Violence”, where the heroine, Chelsea, had to walk on eggs around her husband, David. In “Bloom”, Ro also has to tread carefully around Ash, who lives alone and runs her business from home, and when Ro finally gets to visit Ash, it is made clear to her that Ash has rules that need to be followed: Ro cannot come to the house uninvited, and there are parts of the house that are off-limits, just like parts of Ash’s life and past are off-limits too. All of this ignites a curiosity within Ro that burns almost as brightly as her passion and obsession with Ash. Social media searches reveal nothing about Ashlyn Gund, so if Ro is going to find answers, she will have to find them in Ash’s house, whether she is there or not.

Apart from the slow pace and over-the-top food descriptions, one of the other problems I had with the novel was Ro herself. She just seems too quirky, too much of a cliché in her oddness or standout uniqueness, to be real. Her cat is called Anon, and she gives her plants names from Shakespearean plays. She seems to be a character from the past who likes old books, uses old words, doesn’t like using IT, and despite being an Assistant Professor in a small college where she must wear many different hats, that role doesn’t seem to impact on her life in any meaningful fashion, or perhaps Dawson is just pushing those aspects of her life to the side to get on with the plot and the relationship between Ro and Ash.

All in all, despite its languid pace, “Bloom” certainly delivers on the horror front, but some readers might be frustrated by just how long it takes to get there.

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