My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline want nothing more than to escape Denton Street and see more of the world. After graduation, their plans are set in motion, however the symptoms of a strange sickness strike their neighbourhood; something awful that targets young women. Afraid for her future, Phoebe remains determined to break away, but her fate, and that of Jacqueline’s, become more uncertain by the minute.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
The Ladies of Horror Fiction team decided on a ‘ladies first‘ challenge to start off the new year, and so I grabbed this book without hesitation from the mountain of others. It was on my radar for quite a while, receiving praise from reviewers I heavily respected and trusted. My initial impression of Kiste’s writing – for this was my first experience with her work – was a positive, verging on an endearing one. I was drawn to the elegant, lyrical style that complimented the Rust Belt setting, and I knew, even early on, that it was going to be special. You know when you get that feeling about a book, one where even the sight of it excites you? I had the compulsion to keep it near, and I often found myself ecstatic at thinking of what the next page, the next chapter, might have had in store for Denton Street.
It wasn’t a story of skin-peeling, flesh-eating monsters, or any of the typical horror tropes. It didn’t even scare me per se, it was more of a slow burn of disquiet, along with an iron-grip fascination. Despite the protagonist, Phoebe, getting on my nerves at times, I was easily submerged into her state of mind. She, without a doubt, was the definition of a strong female character; she tried to follow both her head and heart, and often received condemnation for it. It’s why I have soft spot for the first-person narrative and the emotional depth that can be expressed. I was privy to her every pitfall of despair and glimmer of hope. And I too felt the heartache of losing a friend.
There was a great deal of symbolism, of subtle metaphors and analogies that could be interpreted in different ways. The transformations were often depicted as both horrific and beautiful, as well as sad and joyful. Human nature played a role in how, when events are not in our control and we’re faced with the unfamiliar, we can blame the helpless. Death and birth were also of significance, and sometimes they were one and the same. Getting down to it, I consider it a tale of friendship, freedom and the most frightening thing of all: change.
Despite my unquestionable love, I was left with a sliver of disappointment when all was said and done – I so badly wanted an explanation. What exactly singled out those girls? Why not Phoebe herself? So many questions left in the wind, yet the more I pondered over the book in the days after closing it for the last time, the more I came to appreciate that sense of unknowing. It’s possible that, had Kiste gone into the clear-cut details, it may have took away that magic.
In conclusion: I can’t possibly convey how powerful this book was. It affected me on many levels, and even now I find myself thinking back and going over specific scenes. There’s a lot to take away from The Rust Maidens; I know I gained a lot of inspiration.
That scream so otherworldly but almost familiar too, like the lullaby of a factory. Like a thousand rusted nails dragged against a plate of steel.
© Red Lace 2019