Jeremy C. Shipp throws a lot at the reader in the opening pages, with the walk through the hedge maze more surreal than some stories in their entirety, but that's just setting the stage.
Turn right at the woman sliced into twelve pieces. Please don’t touch the statues. Please don’t litter.Inside the house, things are just as creepy and unsettled, with the people just as odd as their surroundings. Part of what makes it so compelling is the quiet, understated narration of Ms. Danna Valdez, who never judges, never condemns, and never critiques. It's not that she's innocent or blind, she just has the mild, reserved personality of a proper governess.
Where the story begins to get really weird - and this is as much as I will say about the plot - is with the introduction of Isabella, the troubled young girl she is there to teach and guide.
“You can’t see her, can you? I was afraid you wouldn’t. Most people can’t. You see, um. You see, Isabella passed away in February."That is a serious what-the-hell moment there, but the way it's handled is brilliant. Shipp plays the story close to the chest, holding back the truth about Isabella until the very end. Is she a ghost? Did she ever really exist? Is she truly dead? Those are just a few of the questions we ask ourselves, especially as Danna's nightmares cause us to question just how reliable a narrator she is, and as the quirks of the family and the staff have us wondering just how much they know.
Beneath all of the Gothic trappings, however, this is a poignant story about the heavy, suffocating burden of grief. Death, loss, and mourning define everything about this, from The Atrocities in the garden, to the house itself, to Mr. and Mrs. Evers, and even to Danna, who we slowly come to understand has her own grief to haunt her.
I knew that Mrs. Evers was sick with grief, but now she seems away with the fairies, as they say.While I thought I knew where this was all headed, just as I was patting myself on the back for being so clever, Shipp triggered a trap door, revealing yet another layer to the horror. An absolutely brilliant ending, and one that haunts you even more, the longer you think about it.
Kindle Edition, 104 pages
Expected publication: April 17th 2018 by Tor.com
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for Review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.