Pairs Well With: fervent prayer and absolute devotion to the Lord, of course! Don’t you lushes know drinking to be a sin!? (But if you shut the windows to make sure the hysterical church-folk don’t see, then I’d consider it heresy of the highest order to neglect pointing you to Pirtle Winery’s award-winning Blackberry Mead; a deliciously scrumptious mead with seductive fruitiness and enough ABV to make you feel like you too could fly!)
Genre: Folk Horror
Rating: 5 Out Of 5 Whiskey Shots
Synopsis: The phrase “life isn’t fair” seems more than apt to apply to Abitha Williams. Sold into marriage by her religious zealot of a father and shipped overseas from England to a Puritan settlement in Connecticut, it seems a life of hardship is all she’ll ever know. This is made even more true when the mysterious death of her husband calls into question all the debts he left behind. With the Puritan leaders circling the wagons, and vile-hearted men and women using their faith in the Christian god to accuse and scheme against Abitha, pushing her towards servitude to a man she hates more than sin, is there any way out of the bigoted, biased madness of Sutton?
As it so happens, though God seems to have neglected her, the Devil may just be the saving grace she needs. But what will he demand in return?
Overall Impression: Admittedly, what drew me to Slewfoot was the beautiful cover art. It is haunting and stoic and incredibly lovely; the sort of thing you’d be afraid to look at at midnight, but feel edgy looking at during the day in the dining area of a Starbucks (yes… I might be guilty of this). But beyond the art, the story itself is incredibly engaging. There are clear-cut villains and heroes, then there are those that are somewhere in the middle; truly wonderful character work that I honestly don’t see much of in contemporary works. The struggles are authentic and as audacious as some of the leveled claims seem, there is always a history that lends its credibility to the struggle. The environment is delightful, the stakes always seem to get higher and higher, and the outcome is incredibly satisfying. Though weak in the convincing development of one of the key characters, it in no way subtracts from my respect for this novel by Brom.
The Cheers: The transformation of the story—not the main characters—is so intensely satisfying, may I say, that I had to pause several times in my reading just to savor it. What starts as a familiar homage to Robert Eggers’ The Witch quickly turns into something akin to familial infighting, and from there it morphs into a blossoming tale of love and redemption, before twisting into a hellish perversion of faith and politics, before finally simmering into a delicious revenge story. It is an amorphous tale, but one thing is never forgotten: horror is at the root of Slewfoot.
Unease and nervousness wind their way through the veins of this story like a parasite. Distrust flickers like a distant light in the eyes of all of the characters. Brom has not created a safe world, nor has he created characters with benign intentions. He painted a vista and the smiling faces of the entire village of Sutton, then wiped over it in blood and poison and paint thinner, turning it into a horrific portrait of early America.
And my God, am I grateful he did.
The Hangover: An issue that sometimes tickled the back of my neck was what I’ll call the “absolute character” issue, or the paragon issue. This is a character that is the way they are and will not change course, no matter the evidence or deterrence presented to them. Both heroes and villains may succumb to this pitfall, and it tends to sour the believability of any story. Many of the characters in Sutton do fall into this trend, however, seeing as this is a folk horror piece, and many folk tales feature “absolute characters”, I saw this more as an homage to the style. As I’m not familiar with Brom’s other work, I cannot say if I am correct in thinking this. However, it is what kept me from rolling my eyes or shutting the book preemptively.
The landscape is wondrous and the vile nature of the Puritans in this tale is enough to make you want to spit. Nearly every aspect of this book elicits strong emotion, except for one. Samson. Samson is a sort of beige McGuffin. He’s there, and without him, there wouldn’t be a plot or way for the story to move along, and he kind of has a personal history, but… It’s unfulfilled, uninteresting, and frankly kind of lame. It’s a blessing his parts are not lengthy, but when they come about, prepare to feel tired.
Corking the Bottle: Slewfoot is an absolute gem, being published in 2021, and is damned near the most pleasant contemporary work I’ve read in a very long time. Full of shadows and horror, deceit and love, sovereignty and bigotry, common sense and asinine philosophies, Brom’s Slewfoot is a very fast, very pleasurable read, and if you’re not careful, it may just entice you to live… deliciously…
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