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Sadie Hartmann Book Review: LITTLE EVE by Catriona Ward

Little Eve by Catriona Ward (The Last House on Needless Street, Sundial)
Release Date: October 11th, 2022 (originally published in 2018, winner of The Shirley Jackson Award and the British Fantasy Award for Best Horror)
General Genre: Horror, Gothic
Subgenre/Themes: Doomsday cult/snake cult, patriarchy, multiple POVs, strong female protagonists, motherhood, pregnancy, murder-mystery, historical fiction
Writing Style: rich, dense, atmospheric prose

What You Need to Know: The book opens with a tale told from the end, a group of people killed in a seemingly ritualistic sacrifice is discovered when the local butcher makes his way out to an isolated fortress on the isle of Altnaharra somewhere on the coast of Scotland to deliver an order of meat. There is one survivor, Dinah.
He helps her back to civilization where she tells the tale of how her family came to be massacred, implicating one person. The details of the case attract the attention of Chief Inspector Black who begins to investigate, giving special attention to the man they call "Uncle" or "The Adder".
This crumbling, stone fortress on the isle of Altnaharra is only accessible at low tide, the path is covered by the sea and guarded by an iron gate most of the time. Inside this commune, Uncle oversees the lives of two adult women, two young teenage girls, and two children. They are ritualistically physically and psychologically tested by the strange and elaborate "rules" of Uncle's religion.

Long intervals of the book are narrated mostly by the one implicated as the killer, "Little Eve" or Evelyn, Dinah (the survivor), or Inspector Black. The tale is told from different periods of time (1917-1949).

My Reading Experience: Well, I hope you're in the mood to stay with me for a while. I have a lot to say. Right out of the gate, I'm going to say that this is my favorite Catriona Ward book by far. I enjoyed the other two, so it's saying a lot. Ward's storytelling voice for Little Eve is decadently rich with carefully constructed details that painted a vivid, cinematic picture in my mind. The story is immediately absorbing the way it starts at the end, and works its way back, capturing me with a compelling mystery to solve. It was all I could think about for an entire weekend. The atmosphere is peak gothic vibes the entire duration of the novel. I felt saturated in the landscape and the cold, dank, crumbling confines of Altnaharra.
Also, I'd like to applaud Catriona Ward for giving her audience all the inner workings of this cult. It is maddening to read a book where the characters are exhibiting harmful, destructive, unnatural behavior because they're in a cult but there aren't enough details given to satisfy the reader's curiosity or disbelief. Ward holds nothing back. This cult is fully exposed. I went through a wide range of emotions-a thrilling morbid fascination, heartache, frustration, anger, and that burning in my chest that happens when I want justice for cruelty and there is cruelty (trigger warnings at the end which could be spoilers so read with caution).

I loved this book. I read it on my Kindle with a NetGalley gift, I have a physical arc and I will be buying a hardcover for my library. I feel like I need to set some reader expectations here--I read this over a Friday-Sunday time period. I put headphones on and listened to "brown noise static" in order to have zero distractions because truly, the prose is lush; every word was obviously chosen with intention-it's a story that demands full attention and it's totally worth the extra effort.

Final Recommendation: This book is for readers who enjoy reading about cult practices, and murder mysteries, immersing themselves in a dark, luscious, gothic atmosphere to the point where life must be put on hold until the book is finished.

Comps: Sounds weird but this is like the anti-version (the total opposite mood) of I Capture the Castle. I kept thinking of that book, so I'm adding it here. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

*triggers: animal cruelty (lab testing on dogs) the brutal murder of a horse, child abuse and death, motherhood trauma, miscarriage, SA, child SA

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