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December 2002
2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Filcher's Brides by Gregory Frost
Tor  Hardcover : ISBN 0765301946 PubDate December 02
Review by
Laurie J. Marks
400 pages List price $25.95  
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Fitcher's Brides, the seventh book in the fairy tale series edited by Terri Windling, recasts the tale of Bluebeard into a surprisingly and darkly wonderful new form. Part of the wonder comes from the familiarity of old territory seen fresh -- not just the familiar source tale itself, which is a disturbing memory of my story-rich childhood, but also the landscape in which the story is placed, and the historical moment in which it occurs. 

Five years after the death of their mother, Vern, Amy, and Kate Charter have acquired a stepmother, Lavinia, who has brought their father under the influence of a preacher-demagogue, Elias Fitcher. Fitcher has announced that the world will end in October, and the Charter family has journeyed far from Boston to the Finger Lakes region of New York state to become the gatekeepers for Fitcher's utopian community, Harbinger -- supposedly. 

Against a backdrop of increasing religious hysteria as doomsday draws near, the story of Fitcher's true intentions towards the Charter sisters ruthlessly unfolds. It is a gripping story, in a beautifully rendered familiar-strange world of religious fervor and cultic brainwashing, in which Fitcher's dark magic seems only somewhat more strange than the modern day spectacles of T.V. preachers praying over their mail bins and building Christian theme parks. 

As the three daughters fall under Fitcher's spell, the details of the landscape reflect the psychic dangers that hem them in. Denied self-determination and deprived of protection, one by one the daughters travel to Harbinger, to enter a utopian community that conceals a gruesome secret, to live in a house where every door is locked, to participate in the rituals of their own enslavement. Anyone who works a domestic violence hotline is too familiar with this story of the husband who is a secret monster, and the wife who seems helpless in his power.

 I found Fitcher's Brides to be deeply engrossing and beautifully written, but occasionally frustrating. It is cluttered with supernatural detritus with origins, relevance, and connections that are never explained. Fairy tales should not be required to explain themselves, but, perhaps because this novel occurs in a familiar landscape, I cannot entirely accept the unexplained mysteries. 

Also, this novel blandly intersects religion and magic in a manner some readers may find unsettling. Fitcher may be an evil magician, a charismatic megalomaniac, or an embodiment of Satan. Kate, who dares to oppose him, may be a rational skeptic, a good witch, or an agent of God's power. Everyone seems to be somebody else's puppet, but following the strings never reveals the puppeteers to be God and Satan, reason and insanity, or white and black magic. This certainly is a story of good and evil, but good and evil are often indistinguishable, and I can't decide whether this ambiguity is deliberate commentary or accidental incoherence. 

The novel's confusing subtext is easy to forgive, though. The beautifully rendered world and the doomsday plot, the complicated characters and the irresistible momentum of the dreadful, wonderful tale will delight the readers. Even the inevitable arguments over what the story means will yield another level of satisfaction as readers continue to mull it over long after the book is closed.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
columns - events - features - booksmedia                    home  /  subscribe