When are we going to learn? You don’t use ancient artifacts as household decorations, you don’t plow over native burial grounds, and, as Cherie Priest so articulately shows us, you don’t cut down a jacaranda tree that honors the dead and has been nourished by tears of sorrow to build a luxury hotel. Is anyone surprised when this doesn’t turn out well? Yet like a train wreck, we just can’t look away.
Jacaranda is a coda at the end of Cherie Priest’s well received Clockwork Century steampunk series, which includes such notable works as Boneshaker, Dreadnought and Fiddlehead. Honestly, though, there is no need to be familiar that series to thoroughly enjoy Jacaranda; there are some crossover characters, some references to its environment and an overall rustic feel, but nothing that will keep the uninitiated from thoroughly enjoying Jacaranda on its own.
The premise of the novella is not unexpected: it’s 1895, and a priest, a nun and a lawman have arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas, to discover why so many people are dying at the posh Jacaranda Hotel. The deaths are viciously brutal, and obviously supernatural in origin if not in delivery (many of the deaths are gruesome suicides). Additionally, a hurricane is bearing down on the island, making it as dangerous to leave the hotel as it is to stay.
But what is so wonderful about Jacaranda is not the premise of the story – it’s how Cherie Priest tells it. She writes with a lyricism that entices without shying away from the truly horrific. I especially appreciated how she did not spare the reader the gristly details of the evil that occurs in the hotel, but the descriptions of those horrors were always genuine, never gratuitous, no matter how shocking. In contrast, the gradual revelation of her characters’ backgrounds and their motivations was pert near poetic, making us sympathetic to their plight without becoming bogged down in sentimentality. Those are very difficult balances to keep in a book where horror exists both on the surface and within more insidious depth of malice, but Ms. Priest navigates them masterfully.
The ending was somewhat abrupt and I didn’t feel like every question had been answered by the time the final page was turned, but that was better than drawing out an ending after the storm has passed. (Who wants to stick around for the mopping up afterwards, anyway, save those who have nowhere else to go…)
Every time I read something by Cherie Priest, I am struck with just how talented of a writer she is, and how rich her imagination runs. Jacaranda is no exception. (Check out our reviews of Maplecroft, Boneshaker and Dreadnought, as well as our interview with the author herself.) If you haven’t read Cherie Priest yet, or if you have read some of her works but not Jacaranda, then put it on your TBR list straight away! Your only excuse for not doing so is if there’s a hurricane coming and you happen to find yourself stuck in a strange hotel. In that case, you might just have bigger issues to contend with (and the Lord have mercy on your soul). Seriously, though, read this book!