Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

I picked up Daughters Unto Devils a while ago, having followed Amy on YA Highway for a time. I liked what she was posting on the blog, and that was incentive enough to give the book a shot when it was released.

Admittedly, I approached it with a bit of trepidation — and I’m sure this is true of most readers when they want to veer away from their comfort zones and try something new — I wasn’t particularly excited about one element of the book: it’s setting.

Setting sometimes influences it’s characters; it bleeds into them by influencing the way they act, the way they speak, the decisions they make. A person from the Louisiana bayou probably won’t feel as familiar to someone from a large city — it sometimes makes for a difficult transition when trying to get into a character’s head and allow the story to fall away. For the writer, it takes a particular skill to transition the reader into the “real” of the story when working with characters that feel a bit distanced because of where they come from. (I wonder if this is why I don’t often read Historical Fiction. I remember trying to get through Chelsea Quinn Yarbo’s vampire books at one point, and it was a sluggish process trying to synthesize the information and not fall completely out of the story.)

As a reader, I have a few blocks when choosing new books to read: rural settings is often a big one, though several writers have convinced and converted me in the past. (Dan Simmons, for example. Stephen King, another.) This is a particular skill that I think we try to hone as writers, to make our characters and the worlds they inhabit successful and realistic representations of something we’re not familiar with.

Daughters Unto Devils does it very well.

There are two major settings in Daughters Unto Devils: the mountain, which could be the Appalachians, or it could be anywhere, and the prairie. As there is no indication of what year we find ourselves, I imagine we’re somewhere in the late 19th or early 20th century America when the settlers lived off the land. In either case, both settings have presented difficulties for the Verner family.

The past winter on the mountain trapped the family: a sick, pregnant mother, and the eldest daughter, Amanda, suffering from cabin fever and gradually going crazy. Hearing voices. Hurting herself. It’s a blur of cold and blood and pain, as the winter also saw the delivery of the Verner family’s youngest, Hannah. The baby is born blind and deaf, and cries all the time. A further complication for an already strained household.

Over the course of the next year, Amanda meets a boy, Henry, and becomes pregnant with his child. Henry wants nothing to do with the baby or Amanda, and Amanda, terrified of what her sin would mean for her family — another mouth to feed, a heinous act for a sixteen year old to commit out of wedlock, she keeps the baby a secret.

With the next winter approaching, Pa elects to move them from the mountain to the prairie where the winter should be less difficult. A boy in town (Henry) suggests a place where there are many abandoned homesteads to choose from, and while the trip is long and hard, the family makes the move.

When they arrive, they find an enormous abandoned farm house. The inside is a ruin, covered in blood, as if a slaughter had taken place inside. Determined, despite the protestations of the children, they camp for a few nights while Pa Verner cleans the place up and fixes the broken floor.

They meet a boy and his father who live in the forest, who only come to collect water from their pump occasionally. Zeke considers their new home with a wary eye, and no one is remiss the shotgun he carries for protection when he comes to visit. There are stories about the prairie, he tells them: that the land soaks up all the terror and trauma and suffering, and sometimes gives it back.

Amanda, getting increasingly bigger with her child, starts hearing things in the night: a baby crying around the pump at the back of the house in the darkness. It’s a sound no one else hears.

The situation rapidly degenerates, and me, alone and reading this in my hotel room at night, forcibly finished the book in a rush so I wouldn’t go to sleep with lingering thoughts of the things that lurk out in the high grass past midnight; whose eyes glint like an animal’s, and whose cries continue long into the morning.

Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics Post Mortem:

The book carries all the makings of a contemporary horror with gothic leanings: isolation, madness, fear, entrapment, but also offers the standard benchmarks for a great ghost story: possession, haunting, and the secondary warning narratives that the characters ignore. True to trope, we have the truly horrific in the practical as well: teen pregnancy! Crazy moms! Dads that hit their kids!

The moral holds, folks: don’t have sex and you won’t suffer for your poor life choices. (It’s a horror thing. Amanda would have made a complicated Final Girl, but I suppose that’s how I like them.)

Overall: creepy, dark, and consistently foreboding atmosphere with some solid reveals and some interesting plot twists make for an entertaining and oppressive read.

I’d recommend this as a cabin read if you plan on isolating yourself on some remote mountain this winter, or perhaps some place in the woods, where you think it’s safe…

Daughters Unto Devils by Amy LukavicsDaughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
Published by Harlequin Teen on September 29th 2015
Genres: Horror
Pages: 231
Format: Mobi
Source: Amazon
Check it out: Goodreads

When sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner’s family decides to move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, she hopes it is her chance for a fresh start. She can leave behind the memory of the past winter; of her sickly ma giving birth to a baby sister who cries endlessly; of the terrifying visions she saw as her sanity began to slip, the victim of cabin fever; and most of all, the memories of the boy she has been secretly meeting with as a distraction from her pain. The boy whose baby she now carries.

When the Verners arrive at their new home, a large cabin abandoned by its previous owners, they discover the inside covered in blood. And as the days pass, it is obvious to Amanda that something isn’t right on the prairie. She’s heard stories of lands being tainted by evil, of men losing their minds and killing their families, and there is something strange about the doctor and his son who live in the woods on the edge of the prairie. But 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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