The Fright Stuff

“Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

Lately, I’ve found myself haunted by a recurring thought while reading. One that won’t let me be. I suppose it could be because of the books that I’m choosing, or the stories that I find myself drawn to, especially as fall closes in. It first appeared when I was reading The Scarlet Letter last month. Then it subsided for a little while, only for me to get to the end of Plain Bad Heroines the other day, and there it was again. Alright, I thought, well that’s not surprising. It takes place in New England, after all, and centers independent, queer women.

Then, just a few nights before sitting down to write this week’s newsletter, I read Sarah Orne Jewett’s “The Foreigner” for the first time, as part of the same New England Gothic reading project that had me picking up The Scarlet Letter. And low and behold, as I neared the thick of the story, there again comes that same old thought:

“It always comes back to this.”

The this, in this case, being witchcraft. Or, more accurately, the accusation thereof against someone living outside the mold of society, in one way or another. I’ve found that a witch panic is one of those things that I never build up a resistance too. It is always consistently upsetting when the whispering starts, and the dread begins to build, and you know – because we all know – how ugly it’s going to get once the word “Witch” finally manifests. And I guess that’s what makes it such good horror. One of the genres strengths is taking things that frighten or disturb us in real life, amplifying them, and giving us a safe place to deal with what they make us feel.

What they make me feel, specifically, is rage. The incandescent sort of rage that I often feel when I look at what’s going on in the world around me. The difference being that bad things happen to judgmental, persecutory puritans in fiction. Every cruelty they visit upon the victims of their witch panic is returned to them in full. Whether their targets were already witches, or whether the violence and fear visited upon them made them turn to witchcraft in search of justice, evil reaps what evil sewed. And there’s something delightfully cathartic about that cosmic comeuppance. Don’t you think?

So this week we’re celebrating books that flip the cauldron – so to speak – on the human-shaped monsters that hunt down “witches”, only to realize that they have bitten off much more than they chew. So light the fires, and get ready to dance! Let’s conjure a little vengeance.

Cover of The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Immanuelle Moore is an outcast. Among the pious, obedient people of the lands of Bethel, where the word of their Prophet is law, she is viewed as an aberration despite her best attempts to submit and conform. Nothing that Immanuelle does, or doesn’t do, will ever erase her mother’s shame, no matter how obedient or devoted she tries to become. But when a mishap lands her in the terrifying Darkwood that surrounds Bethel – a places of witches, spirits, and evil – leads Immanuelle to unexpected answers about her mother, and about the dark truth behind the Church of Bethel, she finds herself faced with a difficult choice. Bethel is her home, whether she “belongs” there or not, and it is being threatened by forces not from the Darkwood, but from within the walls of Bethel itself. Immanuelle may hold the key to saving the people from themselves, if she wishes. Or she can leave them to their grim fate.

Cover of Boneset and Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste

Boneset and Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste

Odette knows the danger of crossing path with the witchfinders. Her entire family is gone, executed for witchcraft, and she was lucky to escape with her life. No amount of magic was enough to save her mother and sister, and now Odette is alone, living in an exile of her own choosing. She lives deep in the woods outside her village, swearing off magic and hoping only for peace. But she ought to have realized that in a world of superstition and witch-hunts, peace was too much for a known witch to ask. When her magic begins to spin out of her control, menacing the village, it summons the return of the witchfinders. And this time they will not stop until Odette is dead, leaving her no choice but to defend herself. By any means necessary.

Cover of Slewfoot by Brom

Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom

Abitha is already betrothed to a stranger when she arrives at the Puritan colony that is to become her home, only to find herself widowed almost as quickly as she became a bride. Now she stands alone, trying to keep hold of her sudden freedom in the midst of a pious and patriarchal society that would rather see her tucked neatly under the thumb of another man. Slewfoot is a newly woken spirit who, like Abitha, is searching for his place in the world, for good or for evil. When suspicious deaths in the colony give rise to rumors of witchcraft, and Abitha and Slewfoot must decide who they will be and how they will survive in a world determined to see them hang.

Fresh from the Skeleton’s Mouth

This Nightfire essay on the use of Killer Color in Mexican Gothic is amazing! I totally nerded out, and now I need a re-read so that I can circle every mention of color inside of High Place. Obsession INTENSIFIES.

Make sure you head over to Book Riot and add some terrifying YA graphic novels to your reading list for the fall!

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening