Cover Image: Maiden

Maiden

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Member Reviews

The theme for this month for me is Thriller and horror in the ocean and this did not disappoint. Every turn came with something I did not expect. I have heard this is a good book but I think they were wrong. Its a great book
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DNF 50%

Such a beautiful cover for such an ugly book. I think maybe that is the point?

This is what others have already mentioned; full of violence, profanity, vulgarity and needless lewdness. And nothing else. Which is the problem I had.

Aside from the above, the writing, story and characters are all empty and I couldn't bring myself to care about them.
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This was a really gutting read. Definitely compelling and a page-turner. Very dark: please mind the trigger warnings.

I really liked the movement between different character’s perspectives. My favorite sections from an imaginative standpoint were those from the perspective of the ship, The Pepper Kay. I always love seeing how authors imbue awareness and sentiency into non-living things. A ship seems like a natural choice for an object with supernatural awareness and agency, especially since humans have been anthropomorphizing ships for centuries. 

I also enjoyed the authors’ take on mermaids. If you’re looking for Ariel, this is not the book for you! These mermaids may have features that resemble humans in many ways (arms, faces, etc.), but they are not human. They are sea creatures, adapted to their environment, and they don’t conform to human standards of beauty. They’re described as looking more whale-like than fish-like in many ways, which makes a lot more sense from an evolutionary standpoint (yes, I know mermaids aren’t real/are extremely unlikely to evolve). I really enjoy creature-horror that is based around how the creature would live in and interact with its environment.

Another thing I appreciated was that, though the mermaids were monstrous in many ways and definitely problematic for the protagonists, they were not the main threat. As usual, human greed, cruelty, and arrogance are a bigger problem for other humans than any other animal will ever be, no matter how dangerous or powerful. 

Definitely take the trigger-warnings (listed at the end of the book) seriously! There are graphic, disturbing scenes in this book depicting physical and sexual assault. There are discussions of very distressing and often gross things, and the discussions are often detailed. It’s a testament to the authors’ writing skills that the concrete details and descriptions are so viscerally upsetting. Personally, this was about the limit of what I can handle, and I seriously caution anyone who has triggers to check before proceeding. This book will not be for everyone. 

I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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An interesting deep sea adventure with murderous mermaids, I’ll say I had a decent time reading this adventure novel. While I didn’t really connect deeply with any of the characters, the short chapters helped me move through the unpacking of the plot and still enjoy what the book had to offer. 

I’d recommend this book to someone looking for a fast paced quick read that is packed with blood, salt, and killer mermaids.
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CW: Maiden includes scenes of sexual assault, pedophilia, racism, and homophobia.

🧜‍♀️ This is a spoiler-free review 🧜‍♀️

Maiden by T.C. Parker and Ward Nerdlo succeeds in depicting the worst of humanity and creating a frightening human antagonist, but doesn’t utilize its mermaids quite as well.

The story does an excellent job with the set-up: four people join the crew of a captain called God and sail into the Bering Strait. It should be easy money but matters are complicated by rising tensions in the crew and by the capture of a mermaid.

Parker and Nerdlo do a good job establishing three of the five–Sam, Jordan, and Charlie–as likable. I rooted for them to survive the mermaid threat but also the very human threat that’s on the ship in the form of Nash, an old man whose sexual and moral depravity is more frightening than any threat from the ocean.

Besides Nash, God himself is a villain in his own right; he knows what Nash is but lets him stay on the ship and it ultimately bites him back later on. The ways in which the ocean brings all of these characters together is fascinating as they’re all running away from something. And God is no exception.

The human element of the story is great even when the dialogue is stilted and awkward, but the mermaids aren’t very scary themselves (which may be the point but still could’ve done with more development). The only moment that really terrified me was when they found the skeletal remains preventing their ship from moving. I think the monster aspect of Maiden needed to be built up more along with the emotional tensions between the characters.

Without that buildup, the action at the end of the book is a little underwhelming. I also think the story suffers from more show than tell at times, especially during Nash’s perspective. It’s a problem I have with horror movies too where filmmakers think that they have to get graphic constantly to shock their audiences, and ignore the subtle or restrained horror of leaving things unsaid or only hinting at things.

Overall, Maiden is a fun romp into the ocean-infested waters and a good reminder that humanity is often the worst monster of all.
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Im not going to lie, I really struggled with this one.  Good in theory, liked the plot and bits and pieces of the writing, but overall the characters were all so unlikeable, some even vile, that I just Couldn’t get invested.
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This was a very disturbing book, but I did enjoy the mermaid/siren aspect. Most of the characters did not have many, if any redeeming qualities. A very gritty read. Many, many trigger warnings for abuse/assault, rape and attempted rape, and murder.
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Maiden is a solid creature feature with strong character development. The story was monstrous and horrific, and not just from because the "monsters". I found some the content very disturbing and the repeated use of a certain word, an excessively used word I hope to never hear again, almost intolerable. However it did propel your hatred of a certain character. The derogatory language in general was a bit much but it did give the desired affect. I actually enjoyed this book much more than I expected too, I'm just not a big creature feature person, so I was surprised by  how quickly I became engrossed in the book. I would definitely recommend for fans of sea faring, creature stories.
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This was a quick and fun read, with a refreshing take on creature horror! I enjoyed the way the story bounced between characters, giving insight into each of their minds and separate pasts. Hoping these authors team up again, and I would love to see more work set in this universe.
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There are those characters that just won’t let go of you. I have been busy and have not been able to find time to read but yet these five people are always on my mind. Charlie, Sam, Jordan, Nash, and the captain, who everyone calls God, absolutely haunted me when I wasn’t reading. 
There was a disquiet that permeates throughout the story, the tension of being out in the cold ocean with a monster storm approaching and a human monster on board. And what was it that they saw in the waves? Even the ship herself gets her own dedicated POV which further enhances the unease that you can’t escape from. 
Can five brilliantly flawed characters, each dealing with serious issues of their own, come together when myth becomes reality? Even if one of the vilest, most disgusting, characters I have ever encountered is on board this ship.
Parts of this book made me so angry that I was cursing out the authors. I really hope there is a prequel in the works, because I want more Pepper Kay. 
I can’t say anything else because you need to experience this first hand.
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“God surveys his crew and sees that they are good.”

After reading Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep I have been searching for mermaid horror like crazy. I never knew how much I needed Mermaid horror! I’ve had Maiden on my TBR and was so excited to see it available on NetGalley! 

The Pepper Kay is a crabbing ship heading out to the Bering Strait in search of Dungeness crab with mostly inexperienced crew. If that isn’t enough of a problem, her new captain has brought along his violent right hand man referred to as The Empty One. And soon, they are joined by the Nameless ones coming up from the depths of the ocean. 

Maiden is told to us through multiple POVs including the ship. Yes, she is some sort of sentient ship! That didn’t  prove to be the problem I thought it would be at first. What proved to be the problem was experiencing Nash’s POV.

This man is naaaasty enough that our sentient ship refuses to call him by his name! Reading his chapters was extremely difficult because if you haven’t guessed it yet- the real monsters are often human. 

Nash is a violent rapist with a history of murder thrown in on the side. He does not refer to women as women, but instead calls them ‘gashes’ and spends time reminiscing on his previous assaults. Still, the captain (AKA God… yes he calls himself God) keeps him on and it isn’t long before he’s causing problems with the only female crew member, Charlie and eventually Jordan (I found his scene with Nash very difficult due to the homophobia too). 

“That’s the story he’ll be telling himself, to keep his own engine running when he comes at her: that’s she not a real woman, not in the way he understands a woman ought to be. Because if she’s not a real woman, then she’s not a real person, right? And if that’s true, then what the fuck does it matter what he does to her?”

We get a solid amount of insight into each of the characters enough so that the book just feels heavy. A large focus of this book is spent on tension between the crew as lives are lost and mermaids are making themselves known. The mermaids are there and all, but they are not really the focus of the book. 

Overall, I do wish that there was more focus on the mermaids and less focus on ensuring we know who is actually the bad one. 

Don’t get me wrong, this book filled me with rage and I think it was meant to. But it felt a bit gratuitous in regards to Nash’s lack of hygiene (and soul) and the amount of sexual assault talk. He was written well enough that you KNOW what kind of man he is and the efforts to make sure we understood that were a bit much.

I’d likely recommend this to someone who enjoys both creature features and human monsters.  It’s a fast read that will for sure give you some anxiety as you read and I think it does isolation very well. 

Content warnings for: homophobia, rape, sexual assault, misogyny, gun violence, murder, gore

Now that I have had more time to sit on this, I’m giving this a 3.5 star rounded up.
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I couldn't finish the book. The graphic descriptions of rape & the objectification of women was too much and in too quick succession to be enjoyable at all.
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“Maiden.” by TC Parker and Ward Nerdlo. I am fan of both TC Parker, and Ward Nerdlo under a different name. I thought Saltblood was great and I thought Salvation Spring was great. 

Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me. I did go into it with high hopes, so maybe I should take partial blame. But yes, overall, this book just didn’t work for me. I’m at a 2 overall. And I rarely go that low with Indie and Small Press books. There were times I thought about DNF’ing it but it did keep me curious enough that I wanted to see if it was going to get better.

I also realize I may be in the minority with this low of score because the 2 writers are pretty popular and loved in the community. And that is fine. I’ve always said reading is subjective. Don’t allow my negative review steer you too far away from giving something a try.

But let’s get into the issues. I won’t go too far into the plot, because that is part of the problem I had with it. I didn’t get interested in it. That may be my preference, but the presentation of the plot didn’t help things too much.

Starting off, the first 5 or 6 chapters just seemed to be a major info dump. Here we have the characters introduced. In fact, each chapter was just about one of the new characters. So for example, the chapter called Charlie, we are introduced to Charlie. The chapter called Jordan, we are introduced to Jordan. I get the format. It just didn’t work for me. It was like the writers were saying “Hey here are all of the characters. Get acquainted with them.” This works sometimes, but I just don’t feel like it worked here.

Some of the info we get about the characters is brought up many times later in the book. It’s almost like there are parts where the writers felt they needed to rehash a piece of information. Take Charlie for example. Spoiler, Charlie is a lesbian. We get that information from the chapter “Charlie” when we are introduced to her. This gets mentioned or referred to several times later, but almost in a way like “Hey, don’t forget, Charlie is a lesbian.” The continuous mentioning of certain things about each of the characters seems a little forced, and I felt the writers were trying to create my opinion of the character for me. I don’t mind helping me paint the picture of the character, but this was excessive at times.

The book seemed like two different books in one. I’m not sure how the writers shared the duties, maybe taking turns on chapters or writing chapters together, but I didn’t care too much for how the styles meshed. They didn’t. I didn’t think they fit together properly. You can clearly see the difference in writing styles in the different chapters. I applaud them for collaborating, but in my opinion they just didn’t fit too well. It goes from one chapter using harsh and offensive language to the next chapter giving direct descriptions of this adventure without any offensive language, then back to a chapter with the previously mentioned language.

And the main reason I bring this up, again, I may be totally off about this or in the minority, but remember this is my opinion: If this book was in first person view, as in we are seeing this story unfold through the eyes of one of the characters in the book, and the person telling the story used this term, I wouldn’t see an issue with it. If this word was used in dialogue, again, no problem with it because the writers are creating characters from their dialogue. But this isn’t written in first person, and I only seen the word used in 1, maybe 2 dialogues. The other times it’s in the narration from the writer, and that gives me a different view. Like I am again being told my opinion or how I should feel about certain characters.

The book eventually levels out a little in the second half, and becomes a story of adventure and survival, but as a whole, unfortunately it was not a winner for me. It’s a miss. This is my honest opinion and I’m going to keep it that way. I do want to thank the writers, TC Parker and Ward Nerdlo for providing me a copy to check out. This in no way means I’m no longer a fan of the writers. Just not a fan of the book. TC and Ward are good people.
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Maiden is like a bullet to the chest. The characterisation and the atmospheric and nightmarish landscape really does want to eat you whole. This is my first discovery of the writing of TC Parker & Ward Nerdlo but I’m going to read both authors’ back catalogue as soon as I can. The raw veracity of the storyline and the strength of the characterisation reminds me both of Barker and King with some Ketchum thrown in for good measure. It’s a writing duo that will leave a lasting impression on the brain.

Gritty and dark, Maiden introduces us to characters that are both morally grey and ones that are shaped by traumatic events of their past. However, the captain, God takes them on, gives them a clean slate. He’s not judgemental but he does run a tight ship. He wants the Pepper Kay’s maiden voyage to go without a hitch. He hires Nash – the worst of the worst, Sam, Jordan, and Charlie. Although God has hired Nash before the other three are relatively green when it comes to seafaring so it’s delightful to see how that plays out as the crabbing boat goes further into the abyss.

Right straight to it – I hated Nash with all the passion of one hundred fiery suns. Although that was the author’s intention, I was taken aback by how much he affected me. He is a deplorable human being. He’s messy, he doesn’t wash, he only sees women fit for two purposes – sex and cooking his meals. He will take what he wants from them by any means – violence especially gets him off and not in a mutual pain and pleasure fashion. There isn’t anything redeemable about him at all – by the end, I wanted to stick something sharp in him, he is written brilliantly.

The first few chapters of Maiden blew me away and transported me from a wee house in Scotland out to the deepest depths of the ocean. Being stuck out there would be my worst nightmare. The mermaid element of the story was eye-popping. Forget Disney’s Ariel, this is the shit that nightmares are made of. I was addicted to the author’s very precise writing style and soon the minutes turned to hours, and I had consumed the story whole. I was curious to how Charlie and the others would deal with Nash’s sadistic actions whilst still juggling the remnants of her past. Things escalated quickly and so did my need for more.

Maiden brings together two authors who together are at their twisty and depraved best. A clammy, atmospheric, and emotive story, it’s supremely audacious in its storytelling.
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4.5 stars, rounding up for Goodreads and NetGalley.      If you think you've read it all when it comes to horror fiction, then you need to pick up Maiden!  Set on a fishing boat named The Pepper Kay, we have a ragtag crew setting off for the Bering Strait under the leadership of a captain named God.  What they haul up from the deep is more than they bargained for and sets off a battle between good (actually in this case, the not-so-good) and evil.  Fast-paced storytelling, some truly unlikeable (and unforgettable) characters, and a ship with a mind of her own make this a must-read for horror fans.  Highly recommend!
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Preface: the authors are not overly concerned about offending anyone. They said as much in the opening pages. But that doesn’t mean they’re intentionally trying to trigger anyone. There’s a reason that its intended readership is a mature one. There’s also validity to the trigger content warning. Should you need a rundown of what those are, they’re included via a hypertext link. The reader should have an idea of what they’re getting into, and I appreciate the authors for including them.

Nautical stories aren’t as common as one might think they’d be. In fact, I’ve read only a handful of them and I’m not sure why. The same is true of nautical television shows and films. It’s baffling because those that I am familiar with, I had a blast consuming. Books like Nick Cutter’s The Deep, Melville’s Moby-Dick,20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Vern, and James Cameron’s The Abyss went a long way in uncovering my literary roots, as far as LIKES and DISLIKES went. Even though I didn’t read them as a child, or see similar films until much later, they still became a part of who I am. They were always there, patiently waiting to be discovered.

Needless to say, as soon as I learned that Maiden by T.C. Parker and Ward Nerdlo (both pseudonyms,) was available as a Read Now option through netgalley.com, I knew I had to read it. The premise then sealed the deal.

Something’s different about this time, though. The Pepper Kay can feel it in her boards, in her bolts and berth. It’s coming off the ocean, rolling in on churning waves: an oppressive feeling of doom. A sense of finality. Of ending.

One of my favorite elements of horror is dread. That might seem like an obvious statement, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true for everyone. The word dread is practically synonymous with fear, after all, and that’s essentially what the genre is: mounting fear. That’s exactly what T.C. Parker and Ward Nerdlo gave, from beginning to end. Even in the pivotal flashback scenes (which were some of my favorites,) I felt that escalating dread; that certainly that something bad or awful was going to happen. And they always delivered.

Told in six alternating POVs, the authors inexplicably managed to tell a well-written, lightning-quick, character-driven novel. Each character had a distinctive voice, with their own opinions, values, and life experiences. They had their own traumas and challenges to overcome, both in the past and present. Out of the six, the one that astounded me the most was the Pepper Kay herself. There was a special quality and empathetic tone to her voice, the likes of which I hadn’t seen done before. You wouldn’t think it possible, but even she had a personality and intuitiveness that I found incredibly endearing.

Charlie and Jordan are tied as my favorite characters. I often found myself oscillating between the two. For the longest time, I believed that honor belonged to Charlie, because she was always so strong and confident, whereas Jordan was almost the complete opposite. As his arc progressed, I grew to adore and respect him. It was a pleasure to watch him grow. Actually, with the exception of the deck boss, Nash, they all changed and matured exponentially.

Speaking of him, I can’t remember the last time I felt such utter disgust and hatred for a fictional character. I still would’ve loathed him regardless, but if there were glimpses into his adolescence or a variance to his childhood, maybe (and that’s an extreme maybe,) I could’ve understood or sympathized with him in some way. I wanted a deeper, more complex character. Unfortunately, the reader isn’t given any of that. As a result, Nash was very black and white, offering little to zero depth. He possessed no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Being wholly evil incarnate, I longed for some shade of moral ambiguity. Not necessarily something virtuous, but something different to latch onto; something to cherish. The last thing I expected was a one-note villain.

Their wails are a cacophony she cannot bear. But she will listen; she can do nothing else. She will allow guilt to fester in her intangible core, where she keeps the part of her that thinks, that feels, that knows humanity as a familiar if abstract concept. She has no heart but is heartbroken. No mind, yet she mourns.

As mentioned before, the pacing was great, fantastic. It never lulled, there was always something interesting happening, and the prose kept me turning pages. I had to find out what happened next. I needed to learn more about these characters. And much of its easy readability stemmed from the synchronization of Nerdlo and Parker.

I’d never read either author, so it’s impossible to determine who wrote what or whether or not their styles would’ve otherwise clashed, but personally, it felt very cohesive. It sounded like one author instead of two, and that’s always the goal of any collaboration. Granted, there were some passages that used compound sentences and others that were more simplistic, but the same can be said about my own writing and, I suspect, pretty much anyone’s prose. I can’t emphasize enough just how natural and in sync the whole felt.

The ending was very satisfying, although some suspension of disbelief was required. However, those instances lent it some mysterious elements which I really appreciated because not everything was “wrapped neatly with a bow,” and I greatly dislike endings that are too neat. This one struck a nice balance. The tension and dread were top-notch. I couldn’t ask for more. It was fascinating to see how everything unraveled, from multiple perspectives because there was so much happening simultaneously. And then they surpassed all expectations with an utterly unpredictable and beautiful development. To say any more would do it a disservice.

Charlie is on her knees beside him, wailing, sounding not unlike the sirens of myth, and with this in mind, Jordan turns to get another look at the thing in the pot… Either that, or this is all a dream. Has to be. Nothing makes sense in this upside-down world.

Sam’s at the port railing, vomiting over the side. When the guy manages to collect himself, he swipes emesis, chunky and pink, from his week-old growth of beard. His eyes are mad..

Lastly, I wanted more. That’s a compliment to any author. Maiden was barely two hundred pages, but Parker and Nerdlo made every word count. There was a purpose to everything. It wasn’t long before I started to love Sam, Charlie, Jordan, and their captain, simply known as God. I felt like I knew them personally, as if they’d shared intimate details of their life with me, though not in an obvious or direct manner. There was a lot communicated flat-out, but T.C. Parker and Ward Nerdlo implemented a fair amount of subtlety, too. If executed well, an author can give the reader just enough information about character that it feels like you have a clear sense of who they are, and that’s precisely what they accomplished here.

The story was a whole lot of fun to read. Despite the proclivities of a certain callous individual, I managed to look past those things and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. And what a ride it was. I think my time aboard the Pepper Kay will resonate for a long time. I hope I never forget it, of only because it serves as a very grim reminder of how depraved humanity can devolve into. More importantly, it’s a testament to the formidable resistance of virtue.

In summation, Parker and Nerdlo crafted an enticing creature feature set in the frigid confines of the Bering Strait. Therein, they explored the extremes of depravity and virtue, in stunning equality. And though I would’ve preferred the antagonist to be less black and white and more gray, I still can’t fault it too much. For that reason, I’m giving it four stars, but please note that those stars are very, very firm. Nearly 5/5.

***

I was given an e-copy in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley and the authors. My opinions are my own. Thank you.
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T.C. Parker and Ward Nerdlo (the not-so secret pseudonym for horror author and YouTuber Edward Lorn) craft one hell of a page-turner in Maiden, a story that is ostensibly about the discovery of an ancient, mythical sea creature, but which delves more deeply into the monstrous nature of mankind.

The Pepper Kay is a crabbing boat helmed by God and crewed by a small group of very inexperienced fishers. God is not God-God, but as the ship's captain he may as well be - it's his boat and his rules, and if anybody screws up what should be a very lucrative catch, he'll cast them straight into the depths of Hades, or at least the arctic waters of the Bering Straight. Things quickly go south, though, when after pulling up a trap they find a strange creature that shouldn't be mixed in among the Dungeness crab. It's a mermaid, and as soon the deckboss, Nash, lays eyes on it, all he sees are dollar signs this discovery will net him and the blood of anybody who tries to stop him.

Nash. Now there's a nasty piece of work. Parker and Nerdlo have crafted a completely deplorable, loathsome, absolutely awful cretin in this character, one bereft of any redeem qualities at all. He's just straight-on, through and through, terrible. The type of character that as soon as he's introduced you can't wait to see him die a brutal, gory, justifiably mega-violent death.

I absolutely hated Nash and I wanted him to exit stage left in the worst of ways. He's also the main reason the pages of Maiden turn so damn readily. Reading about him is the literary equivalent of watching a slow-motion train wreck, or slowing down at the scene of a deadly car crash to gawk at the damage and the opportunity to see the ghastly sight of broken, soulless bodies. It's bad business, sure, but not the kind you can turn away from. You shouldn't look, but you can't not look, you know? You need to see this level of depravity for yourself, take it all in, see just how bad it can really get, safe and secure from a distance and with the foreknowledge that justice will ultimately be served. I mean, Nash has to meet his own vile end at some point, right? You certainly have to hope so, and those pages turn and turn and turn.

Because it isn't just Nash's awfulness driving the reader forward. It's the damage and threats being done to these hapless greenhorns on the ship with him. Sad-eyed, sad-sack Sam; Jordan, fresh off the streets after a life in a boy's home; Charlie, a former soldier with a tragic past who, unlike these other guys, can take care of herself. Each are wonderfully constructed characters, the kind built by sadistic authors solely to suffer and weep for our amusements and sympathies. Parker and Nerdlo make you care, and then they make you hurt, and the pages turn and turn and turn.

Because while the real drama is happening aboard the Pepper Kay, there's the potential threats posed by the creatures in the surrounding waters. And here's another aspect where Maiden really shines - it's desperate, claustrophobic sense of isolation, of being trapped and lost amidst a frozen sea. Parker and Nerdlo definitely succeed at channeling some of those The Thing vibes, where a small group of people are forced to fight for survival, not just against a hostile environment in a far, out of reach place, but against one another as well, as tension mounts and madness prevails.

Maiden is so well constructed, so deft and taut in its horrors and depictions of an insane situation spiraling out of control, that it's easy to overlook the one minor, niggling complaint that I had. And that is, simply, not enough mermaid horror! I really wanted more creature feature violence. Yes, I'm a simple man. I wanted to see more of these characters, good and bad, carved apart by vicious talons and chewed up by dreadful, gnashing teeth. I was hoping for killer mermaid action in the vein of Mira Grant's Into the Drowning Deep, but alas... Parker and Nerdlo are more interested in the human components, and that's OK! I can't fault it for that, especially given that it is done so damn well. But my lizard brain still wanted all that violent, fishy chompy goodness. Oh well. Maybe they'll see fit to give up some fan-service in the already-announced sequel, Maidens, which, if it follows the naming scheme of Alien/Aliens, I think they just might. And if Maiden is any indication, I'll devour that book like a starving man, too.
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Horrifyingly brilliant! Masterful storytelling and bone chillingly creepy. One of my fave sirens/mermaid novels!
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Thank you E. and T.C. Parker for lending this ARC of Maiden. I just read it in one day and all the tropes was amazing especially the Lovecraftian touch of the book. I have this disturbing scene here of Sam's dream of her daughter where in I imagine it as a Junji Ito horror it makes me think that wow so creepy.

Hoping to read more collaboration books of this two authors.

If you love sea adventure horrors which is fast pacing and quick burn read this book and dive into the world of not so friendly sea creatures.
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A Sinister and Suspenseful Sea Shanty

In short, Maiden is a solid creature feature and well-realized piece of adventure horror. The novel scratches at some deeper themes, and in some cases realizes them. However, certain structural aspects and stylistic choices make for an occasionally bumpy journey.

In the past several years, I've read a few pieces by Nerdlo under a different pseudonym. Those works demonstrate a strong authorial voice, a good sense for pacing, and an admiration for genre classics. This is my first experience with TC Parker. After reading this novel, Saltblood might have jumped forward a few places on my endless TBR.

A Motley Crew

This novel boasts a crew of complex —and flawed— characters. Each character has a strong sense of identity. To contrast this with other novels, I never felt confused about who was who. The authors ensured we understood the individual personalities of each character. The chapters alternate between limited perspectives centered on each character. The authors made clever adjustments to the prose and word choice of each chapter to capture a bit of the characters' essences. Perhaps the most noticeable choices involve the chapters centering around the ship's captain God.

I enjoyed the characters with the exception of Nash. While I love detestable characters, I felt that Nash teetered too far into hyperbolic villainy. This less than subtle characterization called to mind the blundering Norman from Stephen King's Rose Madder. While I liked the focus on a "human evil" over a "supernatural horror," I would have preferred a less heavy handed antagonist.

Jordan, Charlie, and Sam each had thoughtful and sympathetic portrayals. I enjoyed the emphasis on internal contradictions. None of these characters fit any prototypical molds. Each character felt fresh and engaging. While the character God, felt closer to a traditional sea-captain, the authors went off-script enough to keep the character interesting.

Feel it in your Bones

If I were to select a similar novel to pair with Maiden, I'd select Ian McGuire's The North Waters. Both novels feature a nautical voyage to Arctic waters; a malevolent and scheming crew member, and copious references to bodily excretions. To emphasize the latter point, this novel makes you feel its drama in your body. While I thought some of the similes were a bit silly —there's a simile involving semen in a toilet bowl— I did enjoy the emphasis on the body. The authors make the readers feel the cold, the pain, the violence. Once on the Pepper Kay, the novel doesn't let you off until the end.

A Bigger Picture

A resounding theme of this novel is trauma. To be more specific, the authors focus on the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people. The authors approach this subject with finesse. The way the authors show us subtle changes in body language and character reactions give us deeper looks into those characters. A strong example could be Charlie's sensitivity to touch. The presence of character trauma was felt in each scene. In addition, the authors do a great job of explaining the sensations of anxiety. This caring depiction remains the novel's strongest quality. When paired with the emphasis on bodily sensation, the authors not only explain anxiety and PTSD, but make us feel it as well.

To aid in the storytelling, the authors wrote the Pepper Kay as a sentient fishing vessel. I sensed an allegory for the planet itself. The Pepper Kay anchors the reader to an empathetic perspective throughout. The authors seemed like they experimented with allegory a few times. While there appeared to be purpose in these choices, I didn't feel like these themes or allegories ever felt fully realized. The authors showed that they could work with a complex topic like trauma, but other themes felt largely secondary. While having endless themes is not necessary to enjoyability, there did feel like a bit of lost potential.

The Featured Creature

The authors crafted memorable mer-people. There might haven been a lengthy bit of build-up to a first sighting. But once they arrived, the pacing rarely slowed until the final moments. The authors had a fun and well-realized creature without relying on that creature to carry the novel. In this way, the creatures help carry the themes from beginning to end, instead of taking attention from the human drama.

A Few Narrative Hurdles

The largest stumbling blocks for this novel were some of the structural and stylistic choices. During the early chapters, the authors introduce each crew member for the first time. The reader rotates, round Robin style, through initial encounters with each of them. During these chapters, the reader receives characters traits instead of seeing them. This helps memorability to some extent because we get a handful of identifying traits early in the story. But it hurts immersion. I'd have preferred to watch each character like a fly on a wall. Any time the reader needs to do a bit more work to dig out characterization, it helps engagement with a piece. I didn't enjoy the "telling" of character backstory. I'd have enjoyed seeing these backstories unfold through conversations instead.

There is another hindrance that appears later in the novel. As we are in full-blown action, the authors take us aside to short episodes from the characters' past. These vignettes felt unnecessary and distracting. I didn't understand Charlie's flashback at all. I loved Charlie as a character, but I had difficulty connecting together the pieces of her backstory.

Sam's backstory felt a bit cliche. While depicting Sam, the authors do a great job of showcasing the effects of anxiety. By the time Sam reaches the conclusion of his character arc, this backstory feels largely unsatisfying. By contrast, the authors wove Jordan's backstory into the novel with considerable skill.

There's another small issue towards the end of the novel in which the authors end chapters with obvious foreshadowing. I can't fault this technique too much, as I understand its purpose in this sort of novel. Someone like King uses this technique constantly. However, I don't care for the technique. It breaks into the story like a sort of meta-voice that sacrifices immersion in order to encourage the reader to turn the next page. At this point in the story, the authors had already done a wonderful job creating an immersive atmosphere. So it felt distracting.


Conclusion

Maiden accomplishes quite a bit. I'll continue to think about some of the thoughtful depictions of difficult topics. Characters like Jordan and Charlie brought a lot to this short novel. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy some of the narrative choices, but overall, this was a fun read.
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