Book Review: Daughters Unto Devils, Amy Lukavics (2015)

September 26th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Psychological Tension Like Whoah

four out of five stars

When sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner’s family decides to move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, she hopes it is her chance for a fresh start. She can leave behind the memory of the past winter; of her sickly ma giving birth to a baby sister who cries endlessly; of the terrifying visions she saw as her sanity began to slip, the victim of cabin fever; and most of all, the memories of the boy she has been secretly meeting with as a distraction from her pain. The boy whose baby she now carries.

When the Verners arrive at their new home, a large cabin abandoned by its previous owners, they discover the inside covered in blood. And as the days pass, it is obvious to Amanda that something isn’t right on the prairie. She’s heard stories of lands being tainted by evil, of men losing their minds and killing their families, and there is something strange about the doctor and his son who live in the woods on the edge of the prairie. But with the guilt and shame of her sins weighing on her, Amanda can’t be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or deep within her soul.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

— 4.5 stars —

The Lord works in mysterious ways, all right. Wish a baby dead, get another one in return as punishment. This is my reckoning.

Cat Winters nails it in the cover blurb: Daughters Unto Devils is what Stephen King’s take on Little House on the Prairie might look like. Faced with the prospect of riding out yet another harsh winter in their tiny, remote mountain cabin, the Verner family – Susan and Edmund (Ma and pa), and their children Hannah, Joanna, Charles, Emily, and Amanda – decide to strike out for the prairie. (Actually it’s less of a collective decision than a mandate from the patriarch, but wev.) Rumor has it that there a bunch of abandoned homesteads ripe for the picking. Recovering from a mental breakdown/possible demonic possession and newly pregnant thanks to an illicit affair with the postal boy, eldest child Amanda welcomes the fresh start. But it seems that the devil has followed their humble little caravan….either that, or the prairie is home to its own breed of evil.

Lukavics seamlessly blends psychological thriller with paranormal horror in a way that keeps you guessing: is Amanda merely suffering from the aftereffects of cabin fever (not to mention sleep deprivation, on account of the new baby, who is deaf and blind and understandably frustrated and terrified) – or is she really being hounded by the devil and his minions?

Lukavics peppers the story with so many great little details: Henry and his ghost stories; the Verners’ willful ignorance about the blood on their cabin walls (who on God’s green earth would choose to slaughter an ox inside their home? oh wait!); the carnivorous pigs (that one Bones episode!); the ending, which literally make me gasp out loud.

The quaint language is both amusing…and a little unsettling, when paired with the blood and gore. But perhaps the scariest thing of all is how little our equally archaic attitudes about premarital sex and unplanned pregnancy have changed. Naturally it’s Amanda and Amanda alone who is left to suffer the consequences of her dalliance with Henry. Throughout the story, the goings-on feel like Amanda’s punishment for daring to have sex out of wedlock – and then not wanting the baby that’s sure to follow. Happily, the ending rejects this trope. (Or at least my reading does. I guess you could take it a number of ways.)

Daughters Unto Devils is creepy AF and kept me reading well into the night. Major bonus points for the feminist elements, as well as the cliffhanger ending that I’m sure to have nightmares about for weeks to come.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Sixteen-year-old Amanda is pregnant and terrified to tell her parents. Before her condition becomes apparent, however, Amanda suffers a miscarriage and then is haunted (she thinks) by the ghost of her unwanted “child.” The winter previous was especially harsh and, trapped in a small cabin on the mountain, Amanda began to experience delusions (e.g., cabin fever). Her father refuses to speak of it, and her mother and siblings tiptoe around Amanda.

Also that winter, Ma caught a fever while she was pregnant. After a difficult labor, Hannah was born – deaf and blind. Ma blames herself for “cooking” the fetus alive. Because of her disabilities – and the fact that, this being Oregon Trail days, no one knows how to meet her needs – Hannah is prone to fits of screaming, crying, and angry outbursts. Everyone else suffers from sleep deprivation as a result (which could be one cause of the mental instability the clan experiences).

Animal-friendly elements: n/a

 

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