I fucking hate reviewing books. Hate it. It’s my goddamn Vietnam and even the thought of having to page through a sheaf of papers with a blurry cover and pixelated ISBN barcode is enough to send me off into my room to sip the night away on a bottle of Bombay Sapphire.
The thing is – I love reading, but I just don’t like reading absolute shit. Words are one of the few places that exist where I find myself at home and don’t feel as if I am an alien, and so many books that I endeavour to read and review for Drunk in a Graveyard are pretty well beyond unreadable. Boring characters and lack of plot are one thing, but a total disregard for grammar, punctuation and sentence structure are enough for me to froth at the mouth with incomprehensible rage. This year for the holidays, as with most other years, I received a cool ass gift card to the local fancy dancy bookshop and decided to treat myself to some readerly things, like fancy ass scented candles and some literary trash to while away my winter break.
Truth is, during the school year, I spend a lot of time reading.. reading intensely boring medical texts on the human body, growth and development theory, and during my down time, I’m usually balls deep in an even more boring reference book on theology, anthropology or metaphysics.. I don’t often read fiction, I just don’t. A story has to punch me in the face or at the very least entertain me in some small way for me to give a shit. If not, then I couldn’t really be bothered with it. You’re far more likely to find me reading poetry than fiction.
This particular book, however, is called “Daughters Unto Devils” and is by first time author Amy Lukavics. It caught me eye on a table of beachy type reads for young women and I liked the cover. Yes. Yes I did. I went there. The blurb on the front boldly claimed that this novel was like if Stephen King wrote Little House on the Prairie. Well there’s nothing I love more than a blood soaked Laura Ingalls Wilder, so I figured, hey why not.
I am very attracted to first time voices. I like reading the first pieces of writing that come from authors because they are so raw, so fresh, and often untainted by what agents, editors and publishing houses decide is currently selling. First time books can be these amazing diamonds in the rough. This is very much the case with Amy Lukavics’s first effort.
Before I get off track into summary – this is a book for young adults, and is published by HarlequinTeen. Do not let this dissuade you, however, because I did read a few reviews which immediately panned this book as kinda trash since it was published under Harlequin. The same people get sticks up their asses over the Krampus film not being some gore ridden superfuck fest. Not everything needs to be balls to the wall, send you to Hell peel your skin off, in order for it to be good. There. I said it.
Daughters Unto Devils tells the sad tale of sixteen year old Amanda Verner who lives with her family in an old timey small cabin in the middle of god forsaken who knows where. The tiny cabin in which the family lives is populated with Ma and Pa, Amanda, Emily, Joanna, Charles and baby girl Hannah, since apparently pulling out was not so heard of in those days.
The family weathered a hard winter, jam packing seven people into a cabin built for three. Ma was pregnant during this time and became sick with a fever that caused little baby Hannah to be born deaf and blind. While her mother squatted down to give birth to this unfortunate Hellen Keller, Amanda was busy going a little cabin crazy and in her delirium she meets the devil who tells her that in no uncertain terms, she is a wicked woman, a sinner.
After her little chat with Lucifer, Amanda decides she’s gonna bang the mailman, because that’s usually how regrettable sexual encounters happen.. Anytime I have used a ouija board, I’ve always been instructed to do ungodly things with unlikely suitors, so I mean, Amanda.. gorl… you got my number.
Henry is the mailman to which Amanda spreads wide both her legs and her heart, and in the time of people not pulling out, she ends up pregnant. Surprise! How’d that happen?
Anywho, when Amanda isn’t listening to devil’s advice in banging the mailman, she’s up all night praying for her baby sister Hannah to shuffle off this mortal coil because the baby does nothing other than scream.. which in a three person cabin, would get really fucking trying when you aren’t snowed in.
Part of this book centers on the events of Amanda Verner meeting the devil, seeing him. As readers, we are never too certain if she actually did indeed meet the devil or if she merely hallucinated this demon during an episode of acute cabin fever coupled with stress.
I probably do not need to say it, but sixteen year old Amanda is a bit of an idiot. When she spills the beans about her little bean to Henry, he immediately tells her to GTFO and rides off into the sunset sans responsibility, like most men.. AMIRIGHTLADIES?! I’m kidding.
This part of the story actually kind of lost me a little bit in how evil and cruel the response from this shitty mailman was. He seemed almost too evil and too mean? Like a twirly mustache’d villain? It came off as a bit goofy and a bit halting.. like, it just didn’t really sell so well for me.
Since farting and hiding it in a three person cabin jam packed with seven people would be difficult, hiding a teen pregnancy turns out to be even more difficult, and soon Amanda’s sister Emily learns of her sister’s less than chaste ways and reacts with considerable scorn.
During this time, as winter approaches again, and fearful of his daughter seeing the goddamn devil and losing her shit again, dear old Pa decides to move the family to a nearby prairie where there are many abandoned cabins and he may be able to pick out one of his own that would be better suited to seven fucking people.
The family loads up their wagon Oregon Trail style and hit the high road for adventure and make their way to the prairie and come across a pretty sick ass cabin mansion, but notice that everything else in the little village is abandoned and kinda run down. Upon going inside this cabin mansion they discover that the whole place is splattered in gore. A bit of a fixer upper you might say. Unperturbed, Pa decides to move in anyways and sets about to hosing off the goddamn cabin, which is pretty fucked up.
There is some solace though – living nearby is a doctor and his son Zeke who visit the family and inspect baby Hannah and declare her to be in fact deaf, dumb and blind. Weird.
Shortly after moving in, Amanda miscarries her unborn spawn and her sister helps her to hose herself off in the field before anyone becomes the wiser. What Amanda is unaware of is that blowing her baby gravy into the tainted land and praying to the devil for not only your baby sister but your own daughter to die results in some pretty hairy demons coming to sniff around looking for immortal soul handouts. Such is customary.
Basic possession tropes are trotted out – baby crawls into fireplace, random fits of uncontrollable rage, fire ants, nightmares, dead infants crawling around the field, you know, average farm stuff.. Eventually baby Hannah gets the living fuck bitten out of her by a swam of angry fire ants, and Pa carts her off to the physician while the family stays in the cabin.
Pretty soon cabin fever is the last thing this family worries about as dear old Ma’s head starts turning at odd angles and she starts exhibiting classic symptoms of demon possession. Emily and Amanda rescue their young siblings Joanna and Charles and tear off after Pa and baby Hannah only to find that they’ve been fed to pigs at the physician’s farm. Before committing suicide, the physician tells her that he and his son watched over the prairie, a land tainted by demons, murder, possession, and that the house they lived in had been the site of several gruesome murders. He informs the girls that sadly, there’s no hope for them, and commits suicide.
Pretty grim, right?
Emily and Amanda head back to the original three person cabin with Joanna and Charles and soon Amanda realizes that the devil really did take her soul, and that there was a demon on the prairie but since Amanda had no soul to give, it came for the souls of her family instead.
The book closes with Amanda laying awake in her childhood home listening to the disjointed sound of her father’s fiddle outside the window, out of tune and playing the traditional, “Come, Holy Ghost”.
Pretty weird right. Oddly heavy for a young adult book. Not entirely flawless, but a pretty good exploration of madness.
I like that the book didn’t use specific dates and times and avoided being too historical. This is what makes a good ghost story for me.. it should be somewhat timeless. There were no expansive explanations for madness, possession, cabin fever, or really anything else. Characterization was a touch childish, with characters not really learning much and there being some static characters for sure. All this aside, there’s a good ghost story here that makes for a quick read and is entertaining.
I like demonic possession, and the connection that this made with female wickedness.
Daughters Unto Devils was released September 29, 2015 from HarlequinTeen and is written by Amy Lukavics who is definitely an author I would like to see more from.
Here’s to you, Amy!
Header image for this article is a wallpaper from Potato Prints