This review originally ran on Green Man Review.
With Those Who Went Remain There Still, Cherie Priest mixes up her trademark Southern gothic with some good old fashioned monster mash. The book jumps back and forth between two historical narratives and several narrators effortlessly. On one hand, there’s a story narrated by Daniel Boone, whose road-clearing crew is getting picked off one by one by something monstrous as they hack their way toward the Cumberland Gap. On the other, there’s the twined narrative of some of the descendants of the man who helps Boone put the beast down. It seems that the family’s split into two feuding branches, and the patriarch’s will calls for a handful from each side to descend into a cavern on the edge of the family property to retrieve the document proper. It goes without saying, of course, that there’s something living in the cave — something Boone and his men thought they took care of a long time ago.
In other hands, this could easily have devolved into a rote backwoods gore-fest. After all, all of the ingredients are there: a seemingly unkillable monster, angry hillbillies with guns who don’t much like each other, and a party of misfits trapped in a monster’s lair as they get picked off, one by one. Then again, that sort of SciFi Original Picture premise generally doesn’t account for characters like a gentle spiritualist, guided by ghosts through the beast’s domain while trying to make peace amongst his warring relations. It wouldn’t be able to handle the constantly shifting viewpoints and narratives, or the graceful characterization Priest imbues her rough-hewn backwoodsmen with. And, to be honest, it just wouldn’t have writing this damn good.
If there is one weakness to the book, it’s the fact that it’s too short. There isn’t quite enough time for the tensions between the feuding cousins to really come to the surface as effectively as they might, and that leads to an ending that’s a little more rushed than maybe it ought to be. These are small quibbles, though, and the pleasures of the book are more than enough to make up for them.
(Subterranean Press, 2008)