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Sister, Maiden, Monster

Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder from @TitanBooks #BookReview #Fantasy #Horror

Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder

Titan Books, ppbk, £8.99

Reviewed by Ian Hunter

Wow, what a ride! Lucy Synder has delivered a gory creation mixing various types of horror – cosmic, pandemic, body, maybe even a smattering of zombie as well, as a new virus is raging through humanity and society and changing people physically and mentally in a novel which follows the changes that happen to three women – Erin, Savannah and Mareva in a story that is bloody, violent, and doesn’t pull any punches as they are transformed into something…other.

The tale is told over 30 chapters, starting with Chapter 0. The chapters are divided into three parts, each part quoting from The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and each one focussing on one of the protagonists. The first part follows Erin and the changes which make her a Type Three. I have to confess that I have always liked zombie fiction and films that deal with the outbreak of whatever is causing the dead to rise as the world struggles to deal with the approaching darkness and is on the cusp of being overrun. Erin’s life is about to change for the better, or she thinks, as she has recently become engaged, but then she contracts Polymorphic Viral Gastronencephalitis, or PVG, and when she is eventually released from the hospital, she emerges into a changed world where she must stay away from her fiancé, and her co-workers by working a different shift, and she can’t have children either. If things weren’t bad enough, something is growing on her back, and what is that on her tongue? Here, in this section, we get Synder’s world-building as society’s attempts to deal with the pandemic and the changes it is bringing, and in this post-Covid world, we are familiar with the use of masks, the endless string of conspiracy theories, the incompetence of government combined with their over-reactions and some of the themes that Synder addresses – women’s rights, surveillance, the role of the state, personal health – crop up throughout the novel.

Fans of Synder’s work may recognise Erin and her circumstances from her 2014 short story “Magdala Amygdala”, a title she keeps for the first part of this novel.

The shortest part of the novel is the second part – “Dolore Stimulatus” – just over fifty pages long, as we meet Savannah, a BBBB worker and dominatrix who is compelled to commit murders for her own BBBBual satisfaction, but there is more to this than murdering for pleasure as Savannah soon learns.

Finally, in part three – “Mater Calamitas” – everything moves up a gear and into full body horror territory as the lives of Erin and Savannah collide with Mareva, the final protagonist or final girl, perhaps? Here, we get the story of meek and reclusive Mareva whose body is covered in tumours which require to be continually operated on, and her condition makes her important to the future of the world even if she likes the part she has to play or not.

Rather like Covid- 19 and its origins – species-hopping virus, or laboratory accident, there are no real answers about why this has happened, which adds to the feelings of disquiet and unease, combined with wild internet theories and religious fervour, but Synder makes good use of existing science to come up with something that almost sounds plausible in how this virus works.

This isn’t a perfect novel by any means, being slightly uneven in its pacing and having a bit too much world-building in places, and I can certainly see that some readers might not like the way certain types of characters have been portrayed, but this is a different take on some well-established horror tropes smashing up against our post-Covid world to produce something refreshing and full of gory delights. Buckle up!

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