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Book: “Malice House” by Megan Shepherd
Publishing Info: Hyperion Avenue, October 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22.
Book Description: Of all the things aspiring artist Haven Marbury expected to find while clearing out her late father’s remote seaside house, Bedtime Stories for Monsters was not on the list. This secret handwritten manuscript is disturbingly different from his Pulitzer-winning works: its interweaving short stories crawl with horrific monsters and enigmatic humans that exist somewhere between this world and the next. The stories unsettle but also entice Haven, practically compelling her to illustrate them while she stays in the house that her father warned her was haunted. Clearly just dementia whispering in his ear . . . right?
Reeling from a failed marriage, Haven hopes an illustrated Bedtime Stories can be the lucrative posthumous father-daughter collaboration she desperately needs to jump-start her art career. However, everyone in the nearby vacation town wants a piece of the manuscript: her father’s obsessive literary salon members, the Ink Drinkers; her mysterious yet charming neighbor, who has a tendency toward three a.m. bonfires; a young barista with a literary forgery business; and of course, whoever keeps trying to break into her house. But when a monstrous creature appears under Haven’s bed right as grisly deaths are reported in the nearby woods, she must race to uncover dark, otherworldly family secrets—completely rewriting everything she ever knew about herself in the process.
From New York Times bestselling author Megan Shepherd comes a complex tale of dark magic, family secrets, and monsters that don’t stay on the page.
Review: Thank you to Hyperion Avenue for giving me an ARC at ALAAC22!
It’s October, everyone, and that means that we are officially at the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year in my book: HALLOWEEN SEASON!!! And that also means that it is once again time for Horrorpalooza, in which my focus is on all horror or horror-esque titles for my blog posts through the end of the month! I’m feeling especially good about Halloween this year, as the whole family is vaxxed up, I have a slew of horror content I’m going to devour this month, and my kid is, through no undue influence of mine, FULLY INTO HALLOWEEN! Oh yeah, I’m READY.
And we are kicking off Horrorpalooza 2022 with a title that I have been eagerly awaiting for a long time. I first heard of “Malice House” by Megan Shepherd when Chuck Wendig was tweeting about it in a very positive way. Looking into it, it ticked off a lot of boxes that I love in a book: it’s horror based, it has Gothic elements, and it has a book theme within the narrative. I was super lucky that not only did they have ARCs of it at ALAAC22, but that Megan Shepherd was there signing said ARCs. I let it sit a bit, wanting to get closer to the spooky season before I picked it up, and then once I did, it snared me in almost immediately. It was worth the wait.
“Malice House” is just as much dark fantasy as it is a horror novel, and given that the two genres overlap a fair bit perhaps it’s not so much of a surprise that the combination works well. But Shepherd does a marvelous job of not leaning two much on either genre, while also bringing out the best of them both to create a very suspenseful, scary, and also dreamlike tale of loss, creativity, and the secrets kept within families and from those we love. Haven is our main character, who has returned to her father’s isolated old house after his death, her memories of a strained relationship haunting her as she lives in his famed novelist shadow. Haven is a good mix of deeply complex and somewhat unlikable, but Shepherd gives her the space to be these things without making her feel overdone or cartoonish. We get the sense that she is a bit unreliable, as she hid things from her father before his death, and as she starts to try and make movements regarding the lost manuscript she finds in his home, we start to realize that she’s not the only one with secrets and perhaps darker motivations. From locals who knew her father when he was alive to a mysterious neighbor to a barista who loves her father’s work, Haven has a lot of people who seem to be in her corner, but she soon finds out that, like her, everyone has their secrets. Secrets, isolation, a narrator who may not be reliable, oh how Gothic! And Shepherd really nails that tone.
The horror elements of this book are pretty strong, the dread slowly building up as Haven hears things in the walls, or fixates on tales of the demons that her dementia addled father was seeing as his condition deteriorated. And by the time people around town start dying in gruesome ways that may or may not connect to her father’s books, Haven has already fallen into a nightmare scape where things she thought were hallucinations are perhaps living, breathing threats. The various villains range from pretty run of the mill creature feature fare (a hellhound, a weird lobsterlike creature called ‘Pinchie‘), to far more sinister characters that really got under my skin (no spoilers here, but on in particular known as “Uncle Arnold” is not going to leave me any time soon). And that is what I loved the most about “Malice House”; it is not only a creepy and dreamlike supernatural tale, it is also a story about the power of art, and creativity, and how artistic creations can take on lives of their own that can stun even the creator. And sure, this is probably happening in the worst way imaginable in this book, but I thought it was a really, really nifty facet of this horror story that made me love it all the more.
“Malice House” absolutely lived up to my expectations. The ARC I have mentions that this is the first in a series, though I haven’t seen much additional information about that possibility. If it is, though, I am absolutely aching to see where Megan Shepherd takes Haven and the creatures of Malice House next.
Rating 9: Dark, unnerving, and a love letter to the power that art and stories can have, “Malice House” is a fun and chilling dark fantasy horror tale.
“Malice House” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Modern Gothic”.