Three Horror books for this Halloween season, all three featuring twins, queer girls, witches, and a plethora of monsters.
In Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin, twins Mae and Rossa spend some time with their aunt Rita and her ward Bevan at a house with secrets behind its walls.
There is a time a long time ago when a younger Rita had a best friend (also the love of her life) and a knowledge about how broken hearts and broken lives become a spotlight for certain forces of nature. There is a time one summer when Mae and Rossa first visit with Rita when Mae has a crush on wild girl Bevan, discovering queer love and yearning – a summer when Bevan’s own yearning for more straddles a line very well known to Rita herself. Keeping the supernatural at bay whilst still feeding it is a matter for masters: and mastering that balance between the Owl Behind the Walls and the Talking Cat is what’s this is all about. There is a time right now when the house burned down and only Mae and Rossa know what happened. Rita, Bevan and Mae dabble in the occult, living in the borders between natural and the supernatural as Mae’s brother Rossa stands outside looking in.
With a mix of folklore and Irish history, Other Words for Smoke is about longing and love and freedom and the dissection of those in the face of a world that is not welcoming to girls who want. This book offers a beautiful, poetic, lingering narrative with a side of generational horror and a super dark twist I never saw coming.
Perfectly Preventable Deaths by Deirdre Sullivan is also set in Ireland, in a small town plagued by the disappearance of teenage girls over the past six decades. Twins Madeline and Catlin move to the small town of Ballyfrann with their mother and new stepfather – a new life, a new town, a new beginning for them all. Madeline falls a bit in love with another girl while struggling with her anxieties and her need for protecting her family (salt, salt everywhere) just as her sister becomes less and less like herself and increasingly obsessed with a Hot Boy. The Boy is not good news as everybody in the village secretly knows – just like everybody seems to know how Ballyfrann is a place of supernatural beings, predators and prey alike.
Just like Other Words for Smoke, Perfectly Preventable Deaths looks at girls and the way they are often seen as disposable, the loss of those girls over the past 60 years barely discussed. But the arrival of Madeline and Catlin (and their family, their stepfather returning to his family home) shake things up: Madeline discovers she has weird powers just as she realises she will do anything, sacrifice anything to keep her sister safe and to avenge the girls. The very obvious horror behind the Hot Boy’s abusive behaviour matches well with less obvious, insidious horrors. The book ends well but with unanssewered questions: I would like to see more from this family and where do they go from here.
The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a prequel to Dracula, the untold story of the brides of Dracula, two dark, one light who live in Dracula’s castle. This story takes place years and years before the events in Dracula and it follows twin sisters Lil and Kizzy after they are captured and enslaved by the local lord after their traveller community is all but exterminated.
Exploring the strong bonds between the sisters, this is another story that balances the historical horrors perpetrated against the traveller community in Europe with the supernatural horrors of vampirism and Dracula. Lil falls in love with another girl, Mira, and together they find succour in each other just as Lil’s life takes a turn when her sister is taken to the Dragon’s castle. Another book about sacrifices and doing whatever it takes to save those you love the most and against all odds. Lil’s journey to rescue her sister in Vampire country is terrifying.
This story is beautiful, dark, slow moving, and the audiobook narration matches the feeling in the story so well, I loved it a whole deal.