Hearts Strange and Dreadful

Off Limits. Feb. 2021. 276p. ISBN 9780578840512. pap. $16. HORROR
It’s 1819 in Rhode Island. Hester lives with her uncle’s family after her own was killed in a fire. When an ailing stranger rides in from Hester’s former hometown, a sickness and a terrifying story of a town gone mad follow him, infecting Hester’s family, friends, and neighbors, and spreading death. But there may be more than a plague behind this nightmare. Led by the strong and sympathetic but damaged Hester, this story’s terror is driven by the three-dimensional characters and the extremely well-rendered setting. Readers will become immersed in the place and its people; will feel their loss when townsfolk succumb to disease; and will cower in horror as the occult origin of their situation is revealed. Pervasively creepy and featuring a dread that compounds on itself until it bursts in horrific fashion, this is a story that will be enjoyed by a wide range of readers.
VERDICT An excellent example of historical horror, this novel holds obvious appeal to fans of Alma Katsu’s The Hunger, but it is also reminiscent of Andy Davidson’s captivatingly creepy occult fable The Boatman’s Daughter, with its rich and compelling characters and strong, ominous sense of place.
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