Book: “The Queen of the Cicadas” by V. Castro
Publishing Info: Flame Tree Press, June 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: 2018: Belinda Alvarez has returned to Texas for the wedding of her best friend Veronica. The farm is the site of the urban legend, La Reina de Las Chicharras – The Queen of The Cicadas.
In 1950s south Texas a farmworker—Milagros from San Luis Potosi, Mexico—is murdered. Her death is ignored by the town, but not the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacíhuatl. The goddess hears the dying cries of Milagros and creates a plan for both to be physically reborn by feeding on vengeance and worship.
Belinda and the new owner of the farmhouse, Hector, find themselves immersed in the legend and realize it is part of their fate as well.
Review: I don’t remember when I first heard about “The Queen of the Cicadas (La Reina de las Chicharras)” by V. Castro, but I know that it was definitely early in 2021. I made sure to put myself on the request list at the library, hoping that I would be getting it in my hands around the time it came out this summer. So I waited. And waited. And by the time it was autumn and it was still ‘on order’ (supply chain issue? COVID backlog?), I decided that I didn’t want to wait anymore and just bought it. After all, Horrorpalooza was coming up, and I really wanted to have this one on hand for it. It’s an urban legend horror story, guys! You know I’m all about that! And after reading it, I can say that a lot of “The Queen of the Cicadas” worked for me. And then other things didn’t.
But I will start with the good, and there is definitely more good than meh. The first is that Castro has created an effective and believable folklore/urban legend with La Reina de las Cicharras. The doomed story of Milagros, murdered by racist white women for the crime of being a brown girl who caught the unwanted advances of one of their husbands, captures a well done ghost revenge story that has origins in horrific violence steeped in hate. And adding in some Mexican mythology and folk lore elements with the role of Mictecacíhuatl, the Aztec Goddess of Death, brings in a unique twist as well as a way to address the violence of colonialism that continues to oppress people centuries after the Conquistadors came and committed crimes against humanity. And as a someone who has been obsessed with both the Bloody Mary game/legend AND La Llorona since I was in grade school, I liked the elements that kind of paid homage to both, while still being original and deep into its own world building. And man, the horror elements are great. The descriptions of La Reina de las Chicharras are absolutely horrific, and you feel genuine dread reading how she takes her revenge on those who deserve it just as you would were you hearing the story around a camp fire.
But I do think that “The Queen of Cicadas” gets a little lost in the weeds as the story progresses, which I would say is probably due to the length of it vs the breadth it tries to cover. If we had been following a story that was solely looking into the fate of Milagros and the fates of those who murdered her (as well as anyone else that was complicit in any way shape or form), I think that would have been a decent amount to cover in the 220some pages we had to work with. As it is, though, “Queen of the Cicadas” also hopes to dive into Mexican folklore, a look at worship and faith, and a story of a woman lost who finds herself through a urban legend turned folk deity. Along with a look into the past of Milagros, as well as her ancestors and how they all fit into this as well. Like I said, it’s a LOT to cover, and when you try to cover it all in only 220some pages it feels like none of it gets enough attention, and ends up unfolding through straight narrative telling vs action and plot progression on the page. This kind of narrative telling works SUPER well for the parts that have to do with the urban legend of La Reina, as well as some of the folklore involving Mictecacíhuatl. After all, folk tales, legends, and myths have been passed down in a structure like that through telling others by word of mouth. But as the book went on and things really started expanding outward, the sparse and matter of fact style worked less and less for me.
But overall, “The Queen of the Cicadas” was a creepy urban legend spin filled with body horror, social justice sensibilities, and a strong sense of self. I’m glad that I finally grabbed it instead of waiting, and it feels like a good book to end this year’s Horrorpalooza! I hope that everyone has a safe and Happy Halloween!
Rating 7: Creepy, emotional, and expansive, but it gets a little bogged down by everything it wants to do.