Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
Wow, a third book I've read for Halloween bingo that I've ended up placing on my favorites shelf, after not touching that shelf for about two years! I'd call that a huge success.
So, I've liked Cherie Priest for a little while now; ever since my brother's girlfriend handed me a copy of Boneshaker, I've been trying to pick up as much of her work as I could, finishing the Clockwork Century series, and reading the Cheshire Red books (which I wish, wish, wish that she'd return to.) Fathom always appealed, because it was a standalone, and I picked it up and put it down about three or four times over the past few years. Working out my Halloween TBR, I thought it was finally time.
The beginning was slow going, admittedly. It took me a couple of sit-down sessions to really get into it, but once I did, I tore through it.
I loved the setting. You don't find many historical pieces that take place in twentieth century Florida, let alone historical fantasies. Priest writes about the locales with affectionate knowledge, and highlights the Gothic qualities of the Sunshine State.
I adored the characters. Though this is also the source of the only real complaint that I have, because I feel like... Priest always gives the illusion of her books being deeply about women. Women are always at the heart of them, to be sure. But I feel like they get less development than the men; there is never a time when we get anything from Bernice's POV, despite the fact that she's (arguably) one half of the book, and with all of her plotting, and mental machinations, I'd have loved to spend one twisted moment in her head, to get a feel for the way she thought about... well, anything really. There's a point where she tells Nia that she always has her reasons but she didn't know if they were valid to anyone else or if her cousin would even begin to understand. Okay, so show me.
I felt like Bernice could have almost have been, in, say, Gillian Flynn's able hands, a deeply complex and interesting character, if never sympathetic. There's too much of the feminine (and psychotic) mystique to the author just saying, OOOH, it's a mystery, you'll never understand! But I want to. Especially at the end when she accidentally... er, does something really harsh. I suppose we're meant to think it's nothing to her, but even if it is, I want to know. I want to read it from the author. She does seem genuinely horrified, whether for angering Mother to the point where the water witch is prepared to kill her, or for the act itself, or maybe both, we don't know. We can infer, but...
I think we're supposed to be flatly happy that horrifyingly violent and nasty things happen to her, but it just kind of made me sick. I wasn't entirely down with it, though I definitely think she deserved a comeuppance and a half. She just seems pathetic at the end, and adding violence to that was just sort of stomach-churning.
The book gets better with this in its second half, when Nia "hatches." And while I'd been truly enjoying the book before that, that's when I decided it was a favorite. She's a sweet, sort of haplessly likable heroine, and the horrors she endures during the story feel all the more hideous for it. Sam, Mossfeaster, Edward, Jose--they're all enjoyable characters to read about, if not all entirely the most sympathetic. And not all that deserve to live will. People you like will die, and people you don't like will live. And if I had one complaint about that, it would be that the two deaths are abrupt, considering how much investment you build in each character.
All in all, it's a completely original fantasy about the war between elementals, working in tiny bits of Lovecraft mythos, in an almost-modern setting. It was a completely unique book, and surpassed even Boneshaker as my favorite work of Priest's.