Holy Terror: Stories by Cherie Priest

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Pub Date 31 Jan 2022 | Archive Date 01 Feb 2022

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Since Cherie Priest burst onto the speculative fiction scene, she’s built a huge following through novels that have earned her accolades and the titles “The Queen of Horror” and “The High Priestess of Steampunk” at various times. A nominee for the Nebula, Hugo, and Goodreads Choice Awards and a winner of the Locus Award, Priest is also a master of the short form. 

In her first collection of short fiction, Holy Terror: Stories by Cherie Priest, readers will be taken on haunting journeys that showcase Priest’s unparalleled range. In an early story, “The October Devotion,” William Miller’s predicted mid-19th century apocalypse ends up with a girl discovering what might or might not be Lovecraftian salvation in the forest. A soldier brings a dragon home from World War II to east Tennessee in “The Immigrant.” Two stories here take place in Priest’s beloved Clockwork Century universe: “Reluctance,” in which a teen veteran with a war injury lands his dirigible in a town that seems empty, only to end up in a race against time and zombies, and the novella “Clementine,” following the adventures of Maria Isabella Boyd and Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey. Another novella, The Wreck of the Mary Byrd, weaves the story of a disappearing boat in 1870 in the words of the captain and some of the passengers…as well as an unforgettable villain. And there’s so much more.

Holy Terror also features an introduction from New York Times’ bestselling author Kevin Hearne, extensive notes on each story from Priest, and an exclusive new novelette, “Talking in Circles” that is sure to become a fan favorite. Get ready to hide under the covers, crack this volume open, and take a delicious trip to the dark side.  

Since Cherie Priest burst onto the speculative fiction scene, she’s built a huge following through novels that have earned her accolades and the titles “The Queen of Horror” and “The High Priestess...

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"Holy Terror Stories" by Cherie Priest is a collection of short fiction which includes two novellas, one newly penned novelette and an assortment of dark tales. Each story, as introduced by Priest, explains her melding of ideas. My favorite, "The Wreck of the Mary Byrd", was inspired by a footnote regarding a riverboat travelling along the Tennessee River.

"The Mary Byrd was a ship of misfits" in the year 1870. The principal characters narrate their story. The gambler, once a hard working man, would stare at the river or play cards aboard the vessel, a man used to playing big-stakes games. Laura, a former slave, came North after the Civil War, found the cold weather inhospitable, and now helped run the kitchen on the Mary Byrd. With a revolver under her shirt, a little red-haired Irish nun seemed smart, spunky, and full of questions but at the ready to rumble. The ship captain was a man of many aliases. Why? It happened in India. He was pounced upon by a beast. "Survival was a wonder better left a continent or two away." A little hunger...a boat trapped in a raging storm...observe the almost full moon.

Paris during World War II. Stray bricks had fallen from a wall. "I caught a glimpse of him...pleading...venez m'aider...it was a little French dragon...I shipped him back home...named him Pierre. He was small, quiet, and four-legged plus a pair of wings...just like one of us...hurt by the Nazis. I couldn't leave him with his broken wing." Pierre was "The Immigrant" in the sparsely populated Appalachian foothills. Storytellers told legends, "sightings" of a rational, educated creature, clearly not a person.

It was "The Catastrophe Box". An Englishwoman who died one hundred years ago, left explicit instructions for a wooden box, bound with weathered silk strips sealed with wax. The box must only be opened in times of national crisis and in the presence of twenty-four bishops. "Why did [Sonia] clutch [the box] in such a fierce, dreadful manner...as if she could neither bear to look nor look away?" For safety, she concealed the box in the attic in a locked and bolted trunk.

Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey was moving contraband cargo and passengers on "a borrowed, nameless dirigible...his true ship...a rightly pilfered and customized ship, the one he'd stolen fair and square eight years before was nowhere to be seen." The "Free Crow" had been stolen by red-headed thief, Felton Brink who renamed the dirigible "Clementine". Why was it barely flying, barely maintaining a good cruising altitude? Hainey was determined to recapture his beloved ship. Enter Pinkerton newbie, Maria Isabella Boyd. Her assignment- make sure the Clementine's cargo reaches its destination.

The ghost of Mother Jones gives a pep talk in "Mother Jones and the Nasty Eclipse". "There's always an eclipse...a moment when it goes all dark...and you think maybe the sun will never come back again...They called me a foreigner...stay home and knit...close my mouth...no one would speak for all the girls...I shouted them from the highest peaks...but no one heard me until I came back to earth...I thought if everybody knew, then someone somewhere would have to do something...I stood at a podium...I did not stay home and bake cookies...".

Cherie Priest's "Holy Terror" contains a wide array of apocalyptic, steampunk, and zombie tales as well as stories of alienation and madness. Not having read Priest's writing before, I did not know what to expect. What a delightful surprise! Highly recommended!

Thank you Subterranean Press and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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While I prefer reading novels, as they give the author enough space to run with an idea or explore characters, sometimes I read short stories, too. In this collection Priest proves, that you don't need 300+ pages to tell a compelling story. Good stuff from a true master. And the notes are fun to read, as they let you get into the head of the author.

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