I like Cherie Priest’s ideas a lot, and even the writing when it works for me — Bloodshot and Hellbent being books I totally adore. I like her characters, the way she picks people who other writers might overlook: the working mother of Boneshaker, the neurotic vampire and her found family of Hellbent, and here, Lizzie Borden — yes, that one. She takes the two Bordens and makes them heroines, tries to change your perspective on the murder of the Borden parents, makes them women of learning and resolve, biting back against patriarchal society. And Lizzie’s relationship with Nance O’Neil is explicitly a sexual one here, which… I’m not sure if I think it’s a bit exploitative, using these real people in the service of this story. And yet I don’t flinch if you go back further and use Chaucer or Gower or Shakespeare, speculate about their relationships, so I guess it’s just because they’re that much closer to living memory. Either way, I do enjoy the way Priest chooses characters to weave her stories around.
The format is pretty cool, too: an epistolary novel, basically, very much in the same sort of vein as Dracula — only here, it’s a woman acquitted of murder versus stuff from the Cthulhu mythos. I’m not sure how completely Priest draws on that or whether it’s just nods in that direction, but she does a pretty good job of making the menace felt. One thing I didn’t quite get was the tetanus stuff and how/why that worked, which weakened things for me a bit — I felt like just a bit more explanation on that point would’ve helped, much as it might have gone against the grain of the mystery and the superstition that was wrapped around the scientific aspects.
It is a bit slow at some points — the epistolary format doesn’t help with that, since it gives us very explicit glimpses into how characters are feeling after the events they’re recording, which can slow down the action as they introspect. But overall I thought it was interesting, and I’d definitely read more in the series, where I’m much less bothered about the Eden Moore books or even the Clockwork Century books, which I haven’t read all of.