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Book Review: CREATURES OF WANT & RUIN by Molly Tanzer

Photo Cred: @loandbeholt

This is my very first reading experience with Molly Tanzer. Ashley and I picked this book out as a read along for our curated horror book club, Night Worms. It came highly recommended to us by some authors who write urban/dark fantasy/horror: Alan Baxter, Chuck Wendig, and Seanan McGuire. New Year, New Fear!

After finishing this book last night, I would conclude that it's horror-adjacent. I don't want to create any false hope or expectations. It straddles a few different genres, mainly dark fantasy, historical fiction, and maybe a touch of magical realism.
I enjoyed my time with this story for the most part. Ellie West is our main female protagonist. She's a little firecracker of a woman with a very decisive, sassy nature and a "do no harm, take no shit" persona that carries her through some pretty chaotic life turbulence. By trade, she delivers moonshine in a little boat to whoever is willing to pony up the cash and risk to get it.
She encounters Fin Coulthead delivering booze to Fin's Gatsby-esque style party. Fin seems trapped in a complicated marriage to a wealthy man who is a lot older than she is. He runs with a very materialistic, fake crowd of friends--Fin doesn't fit the mold and she's bored and tired of trying, so she doesn't--she reads poetry and looks for ways to escape her lifestyle.
I enjoyed reading about all these two ladies and was pretty engaged in the story even though it was a clear departure from my usual horror routine. I did keep feeling like it needed more teeth; something dark to start happening or I was going to get frustrated with all the romance and drama.
Fortunately, there was a dark turn of events near the end of Part 2 that piqued my curiosity and kept me turning pages.
While the introduction of demons, cultish practices, magical mushrooms, murder, and sex helped keep my attention and I finished the book, I will say that some parts seemed overly wrought and repetitive/ unnecessary. I felt like there was a missed opportunity to really spend more time unpacking the darker side of this story--Instead of the mildly amusing love triangles and Gatsby drama--I would have preferred to see more of Hunter (the evil cult leader) and his brood of hoodwinked followers.
So much of all that cult stuff was told secondhand by characters explaining what was going on instead of the reader actually getting to watch the sinister actions taking place. It would have made for great storytelling to have Hunter as a third narrative/perspective besides just Fin and Ellie. The readers would get to watch the secret gatherings and the intensity build unbeknownst to our hapless protagonists. But that's just me being a horror fan and wanting to see dark stuff going on instead of just hearing about it.
Molly sure has a great knack for dialogue, adventure, female characters with depth and personality as well as a great imagination. I can't wait to read another book by her--I have VERMILLION on my self!

-Sadie Hartmann @mother.horror

I'm bumping this one up to 5 stars because I'm still thinking about it. If a book sticks with you days after you finish reading it, then it's safe to say you found it amazing.

I honestly wasn't sure what to think about this one before I started it. The cover is lovely, but the synopsis didn't immediately grab me. I got this one in my Night Worms subscription package, and I most likely would not have bought it on my own, so I owe them a debt of gratitude. I really, really enjoyed this one.

In the beginning, I was still a bit on the fence, but once the characters start to come together and the action picks up I was fully invested. I love a book where you have a group of characters that are united against some form of evil and all of them are so likable that you truly feel anxious when they are in peril. And this one has two amazing female protagonists. I love the way Tanzer introduces you to their lives and then brings them together. Both of them are strong-willed and unapologetic. We need more women like this in novels. I can relate to both of them on some level, and I know both Ellie and Fin will stick with me for a long time.

So many different things made this book stand out for me. Ellie's life is fascinating, and I loved reading about her bootlegging operation. Fin is a socialite who doesn't quite fit in with her party-loving husband and group of friends, and would much rather practice archery alone in the woods of their massive rented home. The two women couldn't have been more different, and yet when they come together out of necessity, they realize they have quickly become fast friends.

I also liked the secondary characters, and the setting quite a bit. I was rooting for them pretty hard, so when the final confrontation happened, I was on the edge of my seat. I'm not going to rehash the blurb on the back of the book, but I will say that this isn't necessarily straight-up horror. If you are expecting that, then this one may not be for you. I don't go into a novel with expectations, so a good story is a good story for me, regardless of the label you put on it. And this is a good story well told. Mindi @gowsy33

I really enjoyed Creatures of Will and Temper last year, but I may like this one even better. The first thing to point out, this is a parallel novel. Yes, it's the second, but you do NOT need to read them in order. They are set in the same world but only in that demons live among us and can live in certain people, making some evil and helping others.

This is a historical novel with an element of alternative history and speculative elements. The historical issues are on point, but Tanzer adds strong women who refuse to conform to society's norms both sexually and by not quietly being good ladies. And man, can these ladies fight- literally. The battle scenes are very well done- tense, visually stunning, and lyrically written.

Instead of the fencing of the first book, there are details about archery here. And of course, all the fun of the demon frame from the first book.

The gender and race issues are spot on making this a thought-provoking read, but also, it was a lot of fun to read. Tanzer clearly sets the book in the past, but she also makes it clear that we are not necessarily much better off today. [The cult meetings seemed a lot like a Trump Rally today.]

Finally, I loved the setting of Amityville. It is nothing like it is portrayed in the classic horror book. In Tanzer's hands is a sleepy fishing and vacation village, but Tanzer knows that the name brings with it a slew of dark thoughts. Therefore, while the people who live there in the book think their town is boring, readers will come into the story with tense expectations. It's a brilliant way to make the reader uneasy from the start, questioning our anxiety even though it seems like such a sleepy place. Obviously, that changes fairly early in the book, but because of the setting choice, as readers we are tense, waiting for the other shoe to drop from the first page. For that choice, to Tanzer I say-- well played.

Three Words That Describe This Book: atmospheric, inclusive, thought-provoking

Readalikes: The two books I mentioned in the review above get at a lot of the feel of this book, but I think Tanzer has a lot of Shirley Jackson in her too. This novel also reminded me of Amy Stewart's Kopp Sisters mysteries, but you need to let readers of that series know that there are speculative elements here. Some may not be willing to take that leap. Finally, there are a lot of inclusive alternative history stories out these days with strong female characters and/or sexually fluid characters that I would also recommend like River of Teeth, Dread Nation or The Black God's Drum.
Night Worms January 2019 Package

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