A widower, with a little help from his cold-hearted new wife, has fallen under the spell of Elias Fitcher, an apocalyptic preacher who predicts the world will end within the year. Packing up all his earthly belongings, and his three daughters — romantic Vernelia, neurotic Amy, and practical, skeptical Kate — he and his wife move to a tiny village in upstate New York to await the end of days. There, the charming, charismatic, and utterly horrifying Fitcher takes a shine to Vernelia, and sweeps her off her feet in a whirlwind courtship.
It says on the very cover that it’s a Bluebeard story, so I’m not spoiling much to say that Vernelia goes mysteriously missing, and Fitcher then marries Amy. When Amy, too, vanishes, it’s up to Kate to find out what has happened and stop Fitcher’s horrible spree. There’s a storm brewing, of course, and the plot goes from atmospherically creepy to nail-biting as the storm rises to fever-pitch. I could have sworn I heard thunder when I discovered Kate’s middle name, when she stood up to him as no one had previously done, when she raced against time to stop him from adding her to his collection. Does she survive? Read and see.
Gregory Frost here gives us an unforgettable rendition of one of our darkest fairy tales, a heroine to root for, and a truly terrifying villain. An added bonus is Terri Windling‘s introduction. Her introductions are always a treat, but she’s getting even better, as evidenced first by the fascinating one for White as Snow, and now by the essay she wrote for this novel. She points out, most interestingly, that Perrault’s famous version blames Bluebeard’s murders on his wives’ curiosity and disobedience, but that the older version give us heroines, like Kate, who save themselves by their willingness to question authority and look for answers.