Brimstone Is A Tragic Ghost Story You'll Love

Alice Dartle is a young, bright medium who travels to Cassadaga, Florida to join the Spiritualist church and hone her powers, happy to be among an accepting community. But she dreams of a man who is haunted by fire, a very real man in nearby Ybor City. Tomas Cordero is a hero of the Great War, who returned home to find that his wife had died in the influenza outbreak. He picks up the pieces of their life together and reopens his tailoring business, but something is not right. Fire has an unfortunate habit of spontaneously breaking out in his house, and they’re only getting bigger and more threatening.

Brimstone is Cherie Priest’s latest, and while I have not loyally read all of her novels, she is my favorite go-to author for when I want a good story that won’t drag me down emotionally. I wouldn’t call her writing fluffy, but it’s often fun, humorous and self aware. If you’ve just read something that hurt your heart, pick up a Cherie Priest novel. It’s always quality light reading.

Brimstone is far more serious in subject matter than most other Priest novels I’ve read, but she still refuses to drag the reader down. Cordero’s war memories are explored in hints and in small pieces; in the plain facts of the terrible weapon he used but not the gruesome painful details in how he deployed it. The light touch does not diminish his experience at all, but treats it with the respect it deserves and leaving much to the reader’s imagination.  The story itself is tragic; his dear wife Evelyn is dead and apparently haunting him through fire.  But the story never becomes so heavy that the reader can't enjoy it, never did I felt that a scene was so raw that I had to power through it.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was reading this book, she read the description and said “Oh, manic pixie dream girl fixes damaged war veteran?” I can now assure her and you, dear reader, that this is absolutely not the case in this story. Alice is very much a relatable character, despite her powers. She is young, impatient, easily bored, but warm, loyal and ultimately just wants to use her powers for the better good. If any character is close to the trope, may I suggest Felipe, the magical pixie dream chihuahua who may just be the real star of the show.

The build up of the plot felt top heavy. There was a lot of character development early in the book; Alice and Tomas do not even meet until after the halfway mark. The true menace was unveiled very close to the end, and although there was some clever foreshadowing early in the book, it’s one of those mysteries where I figured out half of the puzzle before the characters did. Even if I didn’t, I don’t think the big bad would feel very satisfactory; if you’re not familiar with the history this character comes from, it might mean very very little to you. It happens to be a historical subject I’m familiar with, and even then...I thought it was the obvious choice, to keep this review light on spoilers. I didn’t feel let down, but I felt the book could have been longer to flesh out the investigation into the matter better.

Regardless, Priest’s prose really shines here. My favorite book from her so far had been Bloodshot, which is a fantastic vampire novel but at some parts the comedy fell flat; the narrator (or Priest) had a habit of beating a joke to death that just really wasn’t that funny. Really, Cheshire Red, why are you so obsessed with tucking? While Brimstone has moments of levity and Alice’s narration particularly bursts with humor at times, it never feels immature or that Priest is too in love with her own jokes. Again, I liked Bloodshot; it’s a super fun book you should definitely check out, but in contrast you can really see how Priest has developed and improved as a writer. If you’re reading this, Ms. Priest, would you consider revisiting vampires with your improved skills? Please? The genre could really use your talents once more.

Brimstone by Cherie Priest was published by Ace Books and is available wherever fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.