You read it here first: there is a new kid on the block in the world of YA horror. I was mightily impressed by this debut novel of Amy Lukavics “Daughters Unto Devils” that I am already looking forward to her second book “The Women in the Walls” is slated for a September 2016 release. And the good news: it sounds like another horror thriller.
I randomly stumbled upon Lukavics on a random Amazon search and the striking cover caught my eye as did the smart and the rather different sounding plot. I read a lot of YA, and it’s rare to see a horror/ghost story set on the plains of the pioneer era American outback. This American author’s website is called “Inky Creepings” and she is aiming herself at the teen horror market. Which is a great thing as there isn't a lot of great teen horror around at the moment. "Daughters Unto Devils" is a breath of fresh air for both the teen reader and maturer reader of horror.
This wickedly well-crafted chiller had more creeps in it than many adult horror novels I have read and has an edginess you rarely find in horror aimed at kids. Written in the first person, with a very authentic 16-year-old female narrator, who lives with her parents and four younger siblings in a remote cabin near the bottom of a mountain. She is secretly having an affair with a post delivery boy and early in the novel realises she is pregnant. The reader quickly twigs that the infant has a disability, but what this disability is, is not revealed until much later in the story. There is a second narrative which flicks back to the previous year when there was a severe snowstorm, stranded the family in their home, while their mother became ill while heavily pregnant. In the midst of all this stress, Amanda flips out, claiming to see the Devil after which she struggles to grasp onto reality. Whether her visions are merely cabin fever or something else isn’t revealed, but this ‘episode’ is something which the family don’t talk about and is the elephant in the room.
Superstition and the belief in the power of omens feature prominently in the book. The deeply Christian family read their Bibles and pray together, which is the source of one of the major themes of the novel - guilt.
Amanda feels guilty over everything, particularly praying for the death of her unborn child and her youngest sibling who screams and screams all the time, while the reader isn’t sure how sick the child is. Imagine ‘The Little House on the Prairie’ with demons and you are heading in the right direction this novel takes.
It’s quite a measured read, and even though I enjoyed it, I’m not too sure many kids will have the patience for it as it took a long time for the supernatural element to kick in. There isn’t a huge amount of action, but lots of very intense slow-burning scenes which worked extremely well. Usually, I read teen novels quickly, however, the more I like them the slower I read them, and I savoured this book. As the plot develops the family uproot themselves, based on superstition again, and move to a prairie close to a forest. Moving into an abandoned cabin the supernatural element of the novel kicks in and you feel the helplessness of the young children who are helpless without their parents. Thrown into the mix are demons, madness, guilt, nutty neighbours, young love and two teenage girls struggling to hold their family in the face of real nastiness, real and very probably supernatural. There is also a meat pie you really wouldn’t want to eat, and don’t even mention the ant scene!
Some of it reminded me of the recent art house horror film “The Witch” as they cover some of the same themes and some aspects of the plots are similar.
At 200 pages it’s the perfect length for teenagers who enjoy intelligent horror. It has a strong, spunky, female lead, who although she is pretty tough on herself, is both engaging and a great girl to root for. In her acknowledgements the author thanks, both RL Stine and Stephen King for their inspiration. "Daughters Unto Devils" is a perfect bridge for young readers who have grown out of Stine, but aren't quite ready for the more mature themes of King and his contemporaries.
Sometimes I believe the baby will never stop crying.
Sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner fears she is losing her mind.When her family move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, Amanda hopes she can leave her haunting memories behind: of her sickly Ma giving birth to a terribly afflicted baby; of the cabin fever that claimed Amanda's mind; of the wonderfully distracting boy who she has been meeting in secret . . . and whose baby she now carries.
But the Verners arrive on the prairie to find their new home soaked in blood.So much blood.And Amanda has heard stories - about men losing their minds and killing their families, about the land being tainted by wickedness.
With the guilt and shame of her sins weighing on her, Amanda can't be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or deep within her soul . . .
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