Friday, 7 April 2017

'Daughters Unto Devils' by Amy Lukavics

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*This review will contain spoilers!*

'The first time I lay with the post boy was on a Sunday, and I broke three commandments to do it.'
If that's not one of the most effective opening sentences you've ever read, I'll be surprised. I wasn't too sure whether to take a chance on 'Daughters Unto Devils' or not - YA horror disappoints me more often than not - but I was hooked before I started properly reading it.

After Amanda Verner lays with Henry the post boy outside of wedlock - multiple times - she discovers she's pregnant. She tells Henry, certain that he'll be ecstatic, and he gets on his horse and gallops away with the intention of never seeing her again. Bummer.
If her family find out, she'll be exiled. They're having a hard enough time since Amanda's youngest sister was born deaf and blind, so another baby in the house won't go down well. 
Amanda's Pa decides they need to relocate, because their cabin is only big enough for three people and it's already housing seven of them. They pack up their belongings and travel away from the mountain where they live, journeying across the prairie until they find a large, abandoned homestead that they decide to claim as theirs.
It seems to good to be true, and it is. 
They open the front door and are hit by the smell of rot and decay. Most of the floorboards have been torn from the room, but the ones that remain are covered in a dark brownish stain that can be nothing but blood. Pa is adamant that he can clean it up and make it as good as new and heads to a nearby settlement to get supplies, leaving his family to camp outside their haunting new home.
At night, Amanda hears a child crying and thinks she feels tiny fingers wrapping around her wrist. She's sure she's hallucinating - she's constantly worrying about her parents finding out that she's pregnant, after all - and puts it to the back of her mind... Until she suffers a miscarriage, waking up with stabbing pains in her stomach and blood coursing down her legs.
'I am being haunted by the ghost of my unborn child.'
It seems as though settling in a blood-stained cabin wasn't a good idea, and the Verner family will be lucky to survive.

I don't have the words to express how terrible this was. I knew I was going to hate it - that's why I've waited two years to read it, despite it being just over 200 pages - but I didn't think it was going to be quite this dreadful.
It's not scary. If it had been written in a more subtle way it might have been chilling or spooky, but the horror elements smack you in the face with every page. There's the enigmatic hinting towards something that happened last winter, the constant ruminating on the devil and sinning, and mysterious knocks which only our protagonist can hear... All of it add up to the most cringe-worthy, anti-climactic novel I've ever read.
I really didn't appreciate the fact that Amanda's miscarriage was used as a plot device, with the demon that inhabits her mother towards the end of the book - oh yeah, this isn't just a ghost story! It's a POSSESSION!!!!! *gasp* - basically telling her that God caused her miscarriage and she deserved to lose her baby because she was a sinner. There is all kinds of wrong in a statement like that, and I was absolutely FURIOUS. If a teenager decides to have unmarried sex and get pregnant, to then horrifically lose their baby and have to keep what they've been through a secret because of their parents religious beliefs, they need SUPPORT, not this kind of BULLCRAP.
Listen, I know Amy Lukavics probably doesn't feel that way and she was trying to make a big statement about the nature of sinning and the unreality of the devil, but I still found it so damaging. The only thing that vaguely made up for it was this quote from Emily towards the end of the novel
"It doesn't matter what you think, sister. It matters what you do. If we were to be damned for every thought that ran through our minds, we'd all be Hell-bound. What matters is who you are."
but even that feels too little, too late.
Another gripe I have with this novel is that it doesn't make sense. If you find a cabin filled with blood, you don't try to settle there with your family. No matter how desperate you are, you wouldn't stoop that low and put your wife, your children and your newborn baby in trouble.
Also, what even with the whole possession thing? It comes out of nowhere, and it made me think that whoever decided to publish this book didn't even bother reading to the end of it. The story is so tight at the beginning and it has so much promise - the first 100 pages, before the 'horror' elements truly come into play, are subtly terrifying in a way that the overtly gory descriptions at the end of the novel don't come close to - and if it had been plotted better or the brilliance of the writing had continued throughout, this would have been a success.
The last half feels like a cop out, as though Amy just didn't know where she wanted to take the story so decided to make it as unnecessarily gruesome as physically possible. I particularly hated the conclusion: the open-ended nature further points towards an author who just didn't know what they were doing.

This might have been the worst book I've ever read, and I have read some trash over the years. Normally I can find at least one good thing to mention in any review, but the only positive thing I can find in this entire novel was that powerful - and utterly misleading - opening sentence.
I'm still going to give 'The Women in the Walls' a go (it literally cannot be worse than this book!) so I'm just hoping that this dreadful debut with pave the way for a successful sophomore novel.

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