I adore horrifyingly stunning and immersive stories and Plain Bad Heroines promised me plenty of intrigue, murder and mystery with dual timelines – basically my ultimate catnip. Luckily for me, the amazing Ann Boswell at Borough Press sent me an ARC, which is an absolute beast and looks like a potential murder weapon, in exchange for an honest review.
1902, Brookhants School for Girls: students Flo and Clara are madly in love with each other, as well as completely obsessed with The Story of Mary MacLane, the scandalous debut memoir by 19 year old MacLane. A few months later they are found dead in the woods, after a horrific wasp attack, the book lying next to their intertwined bodies. Within five years the school is closed. But not before three more people die on the property, each in a troubling way.
Over a hundred years later, Brookhants opens its doors once more, when a crew of young actresses arrive to film a high-profile movie about the rumoured Brookhants curse. And as past and present become grimly entangled, it’s soon impossible to tell quite where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins…
TW: wasps, death, drowning, homophobia, forced outing, gore, violence, suicide, rape, sexual assault, grief, mental illness
Publication Date: 3rd March
Plain Bad Heroines is a labyrinthine tale in every way, slowly unfolding horror after horror with a sense of creeping dread and inevitability invading every page. It really draws upon the Gothic tradition in all the best ways and is the kind of book you’ll spend forever picking apart. For me, it still hasn’t left my head.
If like me, you need something to fill the Haunting of Bly Manor hole in your life, you need to pick up this Gothic, sapphic and entrancingly beautiful tale. I really loved Danforth’s style of writing throughout, with these achingly gorgeous touches and flourishes of description. From the very start, I knew this was going to be an excellent read. As someone who is an avid fan of the Gothic genre, I adored Danforth’s play on the tropes and trappings of the genre. She pays homage to what has been created before, while also ensuring that she puts a fresh spin on it. There’s just all these brilliant undertones and horror moments that build and build. I felt tense the entire time reading, not quite knowing what to expect next.
The most important update Danforth brings to the genre is just how brilliantly and unapologetically queer the book is. Considering how the genre has always broken expectations, often using far-off locations in order to challenge social conventions, it is amazing to see how far we’ve come. This kind of representation just means so much and reminds us that everyone deserves to see themselves in every type of story. I really loved the different relationships and how they were all these complex, beautiful, flawed and tragic stories. They were so authentically human and therefore fallible. This sort of realism extends to our wonderful cast of characters, who are each distinctive, yet slightly removed from the reader. We don’t quite get to know their every intricacy, yet you feel as though you’ve known them forever. Behind them lies a twisted, dark backdrop of secrets, obsession and one infamous book.
Danforth does not make it easy for you, with a complex web of characters and story-lines that slowly connect. There’s quite a few narrative threads and interconnecting stories to unravel, which for me is just perfect, as now I can just return, knowing I’ll notice something different every time I reread. That for me is the hallmark of an outstandingly well-crafted novel. The whole way through, the story is tinged with acerbic wit, particularly through the mysterious narrator and the footnotes, which are just so clever and meta. Also, don’t go in expecting any easy answers. Danforth wades in the murky waters of ambiguity, leaving certain events and themes open for interpretation. In this, it feels like the story becomes the reader’s own gift, to view however they wish.
Plain Bad Heroines is a spectacularly brilliant book. Obviously, I’ve fallen completely in love and I believe you’ll lose your heart to this darkly entrancing book too.