Gabino Iglesias Reviews Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder

Sister, Maiden, Monster, Lucy A. Snyder (Night­fire 978-1-25082-565-0, $17.99, 272pp, pb) Febru­ary 2023.

I always knew the COVID-19 pandemic was going to inspire some amazing fiction, and Lucy A. Snyder’s Sister, Maiden, Monster is a perfect example of it. At once a horror story of cosmic proportions, a smart deconstruction of pandemic mayhem, and a timely narrative that delves deep into what happens when we collec­tively face something new, dangerous, and scary, Sister, Maiden, Monster is a mosaic novel that shows a five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author at the top of her game.

More than a single, linear narrative, Sister, Maiden, Monster is a triptych of interconnected stories that come together in the end. The first one follows Erin, a young woman who has recently be­come a fiancée. Erin contracts PVG – polymorphic viral gastroencephalitis – early on in the pandemic, and when she finally emerges from the hospital where she’s kept locked away and is endlessly tested on, she finds a changed world, must work a differ­ent shift to protect her coworkers from contagion, is told she can’t have kids and that she can’t live with her fiancé for security reasons, which jeopardizes her relationship and basically destroys the possibil­ity of a wedding any time soon. While learning to cope with her new life, Erin is also forced to deal with a series of new cravings that include murder and a taste for human blood and brains. When Erin becomes involved with the woman who drove her home from the hospital, who also contracted PVG, things get even worse, and Erin soon realizes she’s morphing into something new, something that has to do with the teeth she’s grown on her tongue and the strange growth in her back.

The second storyline follows Savannah, a sex worker and dominatrix who discovers she gets the most pleasure she’s ever felt whenever she brutally murders people for her new eldritch masters. How­ever, the murders, and the unbelievable pleasure she gets from them, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There’s something going on and bad things are coming, maybe even the end of the world, and Savannah soon learns that she has an important role to play in the approaching apocalypse.

In the last story, Mareva, who has developed awful tumors all through her body for years that re­quire surgery, learns that she, much like Savannah and Erin, has a role to play in the coming apoca­lypse, and she’s powerless to pull herself out of it no matter how much she wishes to skirt her role.

Sister, Maiden, Monster is incredibly timely. The PVG pandemic is awful, and Snyder uses it brilliantly to explore the real pandemic we en­dured, and that’s still around in many ways. From the use of masks and the reaction of conspiracy theorists to how the medical profession and sci­entists deal with something unknown and the way society treats those they see as ‘‘infected,’’ there are many elements from the COVID-19 pandemic that show up in this story, and they are a stark reminder of the realities we experienced. But Snyder doesn’t stop there. This is a work of fiction, and the author takes full advantage of that and pushes things further to show what could happen if we expe­rienced an even worse pandemic. For examples, Congress passes the Pandemic Security Act, which eliminates a lot of rights for people, including the suspension of HIPAA requirements, and allows the government to invade the lives of people in almost every way they deem appropriate. Fiction? Sure, but also something we can easily see happening, and that makes it more uncomfortable to read. In many ways, horror fiction punches much harder when suspension of disbelief happens naturally and almost without resistance, and that happens in this novel time and time again.

Perhaps one of the best things about Sister, Maiden, Monster is that Snyder achieves a perfect balance between the ‘‘too real’’ scenarios it presents and a lot of science (most of it is made up, but it’s based on how viruses actually work, and the zoonotic PVG is very reminiscent of other viruses) and the other stuff, which is a mix of cosmic horror and religious mayhem that will satisfy lovers of all kinds of speculative fiction.

I know (mostly because it’s the kind of fiction I write and I get a lot of hate mail because of it) that saying ‘‘political fiction’’ can be a bad thing, but Sister, Maiden, Monster is a very political novel. Snyder is never preachy, but she deals with every­thing from our health care system and LGBTQ+ discrimination to defending sex work and showing how sometimes the most important information doesn’t come from traditional media sources. Synder is a keen observer, a sharp chronicler, and a great storyteller, and all of that is evident in this book. Don’t be surprised when it starts showing up in ‘‘best of 2023 lists’’ and getting award nomina­tions, but don’t wait until it does to read it.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor, and book reviewer living in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs and the editor of Both Sides. His work has been nominated to the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019. His short stories have appeared in a plethora of anthologies and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and CrimeReads. His work has been published in five languages, optioned for film, and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl, and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Publishers Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Criminal Element, Mystery Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other print and online venues. He’s been a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards, and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

This review and more like it in the March 2023 issue of Locus.

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