October 2007

Colleen Mondor

fiction

Not Flesh Nor Feathers by Cherie Priest

In her earlier books, author Cherie Priest has carefully cultivated a reputation as a Southern gothic writer of rare substance and style. Through ghostly visits, haunted soil and even werewolves, she has written about horror and dark fantasy in a way that is firmly rooted in the Southern aesthetic. With Not Flesh Nor Feathers she hits a new high however, combining a contemporary zombie attack on Chattanooga, Tennessee with a horrible crime from decades before. Throw in the ghost of a woman who might have been crazy before she died and you have an excellent combination of horror, suspense and mystery. This is the perfect read for the month of October and should earn Priest a host of new fans who are eager for the smartly written ghost story.

Eden Moore was first introduced in Four and Twenty Blackbirds and had another supernatural adventure in Wings to the Kingdom. With Not Flesh Nor Feathers she is struggling with her notoriety as a person who can communicate with the dead. Her rather dubious gift is what leads her to meet “The White Lady,” an apparently psychotic spirit who has been haunting a downtown Chattanooga hotel room for years. The meeting with the Lady is the first thread of a far greater mystery that slowly unravels as the city faces an unexpected flood of near Biblical proportions. In the middle of it all Eden’s brother returns in an attempt to mend some very damaged family fences. Priest skillfully handles the dichotomy between a tense family meeting and a struggle for survival by keeping her protagonist in the thick of things from beginning to end. Eden begins to realize just what very bad things are coming out of the rising Tennessee River, and what it’s going to take to stop them -- there is no easy way out when the dead come looking for payback.

What continues to impress me about Priest’s writing is the original way in which she writes about encounters with the supernatural. Her ghosts are not just simply messengers; they have a reason for their presence and actions. Good and evil is never easy to discern in these stories, especially Not Flesh Nor Feathers in particular. It seems obvious to hate zombies but the Priest imbues her walking dead with a history that defies cliché and demands not only that Eden and her friends address them as more than monsters, but also that the reader give them a unique level of credibility. This is a new twist on an old tale that the author pulls off beautifully. Nothing is wasted here and unorthodox connections abound in the story (something that Priest’s fans are no doubt beginning to expect).

At its heart though, this novel is a love letter to all that is good and bad in the South, just as have the other novels in the Eden Moore trilogy have been. Priest knows of what she writes, the battlefields and rivers, the abandoned buildings and darkened streets. Most significantly, while she connects deeply with the history of the South, she also respects its continuing impact on contemporary life there. Her books are dripping with atmosphere and while I hesitate to make this comparison, I can’t help but think that Cherie Priest is doing something for this region of the country in the same way that Stephen King has exposed all of Maine’s mysteries to generations of readers. As someone who was raised in the South I’ve been waiting for a long time for somebody who ties together all that is surreal and surprising about that part of the country. The way that Priest does this -- without relying on New Orleans as a setting -- continues to draw me to her work. Not Flesh Nor Feathers is another great foray into the fantastic yet realistic world she is proving to know better than anyone else in the fantasy field. I enjoyed the hell out of Not Flesh Nor Feathers and I’m certain other fans of the southern gothic will embrace it just as strongly as well.

Not Flesh Nor Feathers by Cherie Priest   
Tor
ISBN 0765313102
361 pages