Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review: Those Who Went Remain There Still


Cherie Priest’s Those Who Went Remain There Still is a rip-roaring, page turning adventure romp set in the Kentucky Wilderness. There’re feudin’ families (Manders and Coys), an American trailblazer (Daniel Boone), and one of the most intriguing monster you’ll see this side of the Mississip’. (Bird Creature).

Priest’s simple prose is like a well baited hook. You simply can’t help devouring sentence after sentence. Before you know it you’re hooked and there’s absolutely no way you’re getting off the line. Like a fisherman who knows what bait to use; Priest knows what will catch and keep a readers attention. The three well paced story arcs all leave the reader on the edge of their seat. One arc acts as a history for the story, while the other two become interlaced with each other.

In the first arc we’re introduced to Daniel Boone and his battle of wits with the bird creature and it is just plain good old fashioned story telling. The way Priest portrays Boone is perfect. She makes this iconic figure feel human with all the foibles of regular men. We don’t get a larger then life legend of modern history but rather just a man who wants to protect his men and is pissed off that he can’t.

Next we’re introduced to Meshack Coy followed in the next chapter by his Uncle John Coy. Both of these men have managed to escape from the backwoods of Kentucky and make new lives for themselves. However, they’re pulled back into old feuds as one of their relatives passes away. Even in death the relation is a nasty bastard as he’s left his will deep in a cave that from all accounts is haunted. Both men reluctantly journey home one last time vowing that this would be the last time either sets foot back in their hometown.

Lastly there’s one more character that needs mentioning and that is the bird creature itself. The bird creature is absolutely terrifying. It is relentless in pursuit of Boone and his men, picking them off one by one and it is seemingly invulnerable. We don’t know the reason why it kills. Perhaps animal nature, perhaps defending its turf we simply don’t know, it just kills. Yet somehow despite its murderous nature Priest manages to make us empathize with creature. The whole Boone story arc just completely blew my mind.

The bird creature that Priest has created is the best monster I’ve seen in the least ten years. It is absolutely horrifying in nature and yet it’s so simple. The bird creature belongs to the backwoods of Kentucky like Godzilla belongs to Tokyo.

By the end of the book all these story arcs come to a satisfying conclusion having interwoven with each other making an already exceptional novel truly great. This is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Cherie Priest is a writer on the top of her game and Those Who Went Remain There Still is the frontrunner for Book of the Year on my list.

I can not recommend this novel enough.

95/100


Post Script: For those of you who opt to go with the Limited Signed Edition of the novel from Subterranean Press you’ll also get a Chapbook of additional material.

While the Chapbook isn’t anything especially earth shattering, it does shed some light on the authors creative process along with her inspiration for the novel. For those wondering, it was largely based around her own personal family history. The chapbook contains several clever anecdotes about the research process and the difficulty of getting people to remember the past.

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