PLEASE NOTE: I'm rarely active here anymore, but please feel free to follow me on Goodreads, where I post regularly.
These are the chronicles of a book addict, a photo junkie, and an aspiring author, rewriting the very fabric of reality one page (and one snapshot) at a time. From the strange to the unusual; the abandoned to the abnormal; the haunted to the historic; the supernatural to the surreal; the forests of dark fantasy, the cemeteries of gothic horror, and the post-apocalyptic ruins of science fiction are the landscapes of my imagination.
Although I've found myself souring a bit on science fiction lately, with my reading tastes driving me firmly back into the realms of epic fantasy, horror has always been my first love. It's what I remember reading first, and what has driven most of my own writing endeavors. So, while I hardly need an excuse to celebrate the genre, events like Women in Horror Month certainly do provide a convenient prompt for me to look beyond the towering review pile and into well-stocked TBR shelves that fill my e-reader and (quite literally) cover the house.
First up this month is Mercedes M. Yardley, and author with whom I was already familiar, but who I got to know a little better during a Ragnarok Publications Facebook party last month. We connected over fiction and music, and she was kind enough to send a copy of Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love my way.
Let me just say that this is some of the darkest stuff I've read in a long while. It's daring, original, and manages to accomplish what so many other authors and filmmakers have failed to do. It makes an antagonist of a victim and keeps her at the forefront of the entire novel, with nary a protagonist in sight. It's a risky move, and one that most stories cannot sustain, but Yardley weaves in enough backstory and character development to make her serial killers sympathetic leads. That's not to say they're necessarily likable or characters to whom we can relate, but she forces us to understand them and their motives.
This is a crime drama, a love story, and a tale of supernatural myth and magic. It's a book that operates on multiple levels, but which has no patience for easing the reader through unnecessary transitions. There's no one point at which it shifts from crime drama to love story, just as there's no single instance where Montessa shifts from victim to killer. As for the myth and the magic, it's there throughout, but so subtle and fantastic that you're never quite sure when you stopped questioning just much is supernatural and how much is allegory or illusion.
It's a seriously messed up world where a victim's love for her killer is more beautiful and pure than a father's love for his child, but that's precisely the world in which we live. When abuse and neglect are found where love should be, how inconceivable is it that love is found where it shouldn't? Yardley really plays with that idea, and uses it to explore who Montessa and Lulu really are, and how they came to be. It's a brutal, bloody, violent tale, full of sorrow and pain, but it's also one redeemed by the presence of love. A lot of people die, in a lot of brutal ways, and the fondness for the act of murder may be too much for some readers to take, but it's all connected.
I will admit, I kept seeing flashes from Natural Born Killers in my head as I read this, but Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love trades the satire and the sensationalism for sentiment and sincerity. This is a story not of spectacle, but of spirit, and that intimacy (along with Yardley's almost-poetic narrative) is what makes it work.