Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Review - Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie Priest

Those Who Went Remain There Still
Cherie Priest
Subterranean Press 2008
ISBN 978-1-59606-179-8
Fantasy/Horror/Historical Fiction
Signed, numbered edition (113/200)
Cover art by Mark Geyer
170 pages

“Those Who Went Remain There Still” is an Americana folk tale with a macabre and horrifying spin. It is, in essence, a tale of monsters, both real and imagined, human and… other, with elements of folklore, family history, and a feud that spans over ten decades. But it is much more. Bringing together components of family, local and national history, Priest has a knack for getting close to the characters and places that she creates. What’s more, she has the remarkable ability to make you feel close to them as well. In doing so she weaves a tightly knit tale with wonderful characters that live off the page.

The story shifts between the perspectives of one of the U.S.’s most enigmatic real-life trailblazers, Daniel Boone to a group of strong frontiersmen that are loosely drawn on the author’s own ancestors.

The year is 1775 and Daniel Boone and his crew of axmen are cutting a trail through the Cumberland Gap of Kentucky. But they’ve disturbed the nest or hunting grounds of something that is hateful, spiteful, smart, and mad as hell at them for trespassing. One night they are attacked by this strange flying creature (larger than a bear it reeks of death and ruin) and a single man goes missing. Every few nights the creature returns and every few nights another man disappears. In a subsequent attack the beast is injured and Boone and a volunteer head off into the dark forest to finish the job. After battling and killing the beast they dump the body into a nearby cave.

One hundred years later the Coys and Manders are summoned back to their home town after the death of the eldest family member. Six men, three Coys and three Manders, are chosen to enter the “Witches’ Pit” a cave where the last will and testament of the deceased patriarch has supposedly been hidden. Choosing three men from each clan the deceased tries to quell the feud posthumously by forcing the two clans to cooperate together to locate the will. What the six chosen men don’t know is that Boone and his axmen did not completely finish the job they started and something wicked, evil, angry and hungry is waiting for them in the depths of the cave.

While horror is not one of my favorite genres and only a very few good stories have held my attention in the past this folk tale was written so beautifully and with such an ear for the historical folklore and myths of the Kentucky mountains that I could not put it down. In a way it reminded me of Orson Scott Card’s “Alvin Maker” stories which I enjoyed immensely but there was something different about “Those Who Went…” Priest shows a great deal of pride in her heritage and her characters are believable, earthy, rugged and confident individuals. And, there is magic… or the unknown woven throughout. Perhaps because Priest includes fictional representatives of her own family it is clear to me that this was a subject she really cares about. Perhaps, more authors should do the same. All in all, this is a fantastic work of speculative fiction. No finer words of praise might be said than, “I’ve become a fan!”

A word about the included Chapbook – The small Chapbook, “Those Who Went Remain There Still (How it Really Went Down.)” which was included with the purchase of the signed version of the hardcover of the same name, is a short essay concerning the author’s use of verbal family history woven into American history and the creative imagination used to write this wonderful piece of (too) short fiction. Using verbal family tales as a baseline the author mixes components of the fictitious life of Daniel Boone with the fear of darkness and deep caverns, a century’s old family feud, the possible cooperation of six very different men, and creatures not quite of this earth. An interesting and informative addition to the text.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

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