Sister, Maiden, Monster Review

Book: Sister, Maiden, Monster
Author: Lucy A. Snyder
Publisher: Nightfire
Year: 2023
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “A virus tears across the globe, transforming its victims in nightmarish ways. As the world collapses, dark forces pull a small group of women together.
Erin, once quiet and closeted, acquires an appetite for a woman and her brain. Why does forbidden fruit taste so good?
Savannah, a professional BDSM switch, discovers a new turn-on: committing brutal murders for her eldritch masters.
Mareva, plagued with chronic tumors, is too horrified to acknowledge her divine role in the coming apocalypse, and as her growths multiply, so too does her desperation.
Inspired by her Bram Stoke Award-winning story “Mandala Amygdala”, Lucy A. Snyder delivers a cosmic tale about the planet’s disastrous transformation…and what we become after.”

Review: I’m going to do something I haven’t done before, I’m going to give a book I didn’t like 5 full stars. I did not like this book. It was weird, it was graphic, and it was dystopian which is absolutely not my favorite. But! But. It was well written, it unraveled at just the speed you’d hope, and it was entirely unique. You could not have predicted this book if you’d tried, and anyone who says they could is lying.

I was pretty apprehensive about reading a book about a pandemic; frankly I don’t think we’re far enough removed for a storyline about a world-wide virus to have any impact on me other than pure horror. Granted, I do think this book was dystopian horror novel, so perhaps my initial reaction was exactly as it should have been. Snyder does reference the current pandemic as a thing of the past, so the timeline for this novel is at least a few years or possibly decades in the future, though it could have taken place in our current reality based on the technology available. There are aspects of the virus in this book that have stuck with me and continue to feel frustratingly gross to think about, but I always say that the mark of a good book is that I continue to think about it long after I’m done reading it, so yet again I feel compelled to say that this book was good, just not for me.

I think, perhaps, the best and most accurate way to sum up this novel is with a quote Snyder leaves at the end of her acknowledgements, an excerpt from an editorial acceptance of her original short story “Mandala Amygdala” : “Lucy, what the fuck is wrong with you? Good grief that story was messed up. Thanks. I think.”

Sister, Maiden, Monster is told through the perspective of three different women, each being given one third of the book’s narrative. I initially thought I didn’t particularly like the way the story was told when Erin was the narrator, being the first. As the perspective shifts, though, to Savannah, I quickly realized Snyder had deftly used Erin’s voice to be the every-man of the story. Each point of view through each woman was completely different and served to move the plot forward, but perhaps the thing that was most impressive (and maybe it shouldn’t be, but it’s simply not always a given) was that each narrator had their own voice. While Erin’s was mundane and maybe even a little bland, Savannah’s was full of excitement and intrigue, telling her tale with zest that Erin lacked. As we made our way to Mareva, we encountered a scientific and logic-minded narrator who’s point of view varied so much so from Erin and Savannah’s that there was no missing the foil.

As the world roils from a plague that looks eerily like a vampire / zombie crossover virus, things start to change in strange and confusing ways. We see these changes first through the eyes of Erin, an infected survivor of the virus whose long haul (so to speak) symptoms require the consumption of brain matter to ensure her survival, making her a type 3 of 5, the rest of whom either never survive or require blood; then through the eyes of Savannah who begins to receive messages through her dreams from old gods she finds unfamiliar and strange, giving her just enough information to work with but not enough to reveal the final aspects of what this plague would do to humanity.

Just when you think you’ve got the plot figured out, Snyder goes and changes something in the weirdest and strangest ways all the way through to the very end of the book. I can’t even say that nothing is as it seems, because everything is as it seems, but how it seems is confusing and strange and twisted. I will say, not everything is revealed, and it unfolds slowly through each of the three women. We find ourselves at the end of the book with some answers, but not all. And while this lack of answers can often leave me feeling annoyed or frustrated, here it works. Nothing makes sense because none of what’s happening is familiar, so any unanswered questions are done so purposefully, rather than neglectfully. Snyder leaves ends untied and questions unanswered, and we get to speculate for ourselves. I suspect anything I might come up with in my mind would pale in comparison to anything Snyder could write.

Advice: “Sister, Maiden, Mother” is a truly graphic telling of an eldritch horror, ten times worse than anything Lovecraft himself could have thought up. It is not for the faint of heart, nor for anyone who may be squeamish in anyway, those who do not enjoy dystopian novels, or anyone who feels grossed out by the idea of a worldwide virus. If, however, you enjoy a truly unique, surprising, or even gross novel that’s written so well the only flaw you can find with it seems too minimal to mention, and you kind of relish the idea of looking at roadkill with curiosity, this may very well be the book for you.

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