Dark fantasy is a genre that usually evokes images of knights, evil wizards, vampires, or gothic anti-heroes. The latest book by Cherie Priest, Fathom, contains little, if any, of those genre standards. Instead, the story takes place in Florida of not all that long ago.
Fathom, I believe, more aptly would be described as southern gothic, or perhaps a mixture of southern gothic and weird fiction. However you wish to label the work, it is a worthy read for any fan of horror and its myriad of sub-genres and similar genres.
Set in the steamy, lush backdrop of a mid-state Florida island and its nearby environs, the novel evokes an old south feeling due to its depiction of a near plantation-like mansion and the vivid description of the at-that-time untamed interior of the state.
The strength of the novel lies in its uniqueness. Any horror maven has spent untold hours poring through book after book about vampires A, B, and C, and wishing that somebody would come up with a new creature, or at least one that has not received quite as thorough a treatment as vampires, zombies, and werewolves.
With Fathom, the reader is treated to a story surrounding the machinations of elementals, god-like beings that rule a specific realm of nature. The main elemental in the story, the water witch, is a being with Cthulu-like power but a decidedly non-Cthulu-like intellect. The water witch plots, schemes, feels emotion, and even suffers regret.
The back cover of the book bills the title as something “unlike anything you’ve ever read”, and, to a degree, it is true. The creatures, whether good, evil, or otherwise, are a breath of fresh air. They are not slaves to tired conventions or overused plot devices. Instead, their lives, especially of heroine Nia, are quite fascinating.
Priest writes in a style that is heavily descriptive yet adequately paced, knowledgeable yet not tedious, and intimate enough that the reader is given a reasonable yet not omniscient look at the story’s characters. The mood is taut, mildly gloomy, and decidedly less spooky than most horror works. There is some gore, but it is not overwhelming, and there is little cursing or sex, a welcome change from most modern horror novels.
So if you’re like me and have read more cookie-cutter, same old same old, horror novels that you’d like to admit, I would heartily recommend Fathom. It is a breath of fresh air into a genre that could certainly use it.