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Content warning: body horror, gore, blood, child sexual abuse (~75% mark), arson, medical experimentation, dysphoria, harm against animals
Gothic horror is great. Gothic horror that’s disguising a science fiction horror? Even better. A physician goes to replace a colleague far in the north in a frozen chateau occupied by a baron, his son, his wife, and their twins. As the doctor from the Institute investigates the cause of death, secrets begin to unravel that can easily spell humanity’s decline.
With dense, precise language weaving a tale of discovery and self-discovery, definitely a must-read for fans of Caitlin Starling in search of more claustrophobic settings and morally gray characters.
Ennes has such a command of the prose in this work. It reads like something from the 1800’s in terms of the gothic atmosphere and visceral attention-to-detail as far as medicine goes. But as you unravel some of the details, the setting for this book actually hits closer to home than initially expected. Earth is just in the future, and most diseases have been dealt with, except for that pesky human one.
The tension is incredible and also also allows for a deliberate exploration of consent and bodily autonomy. The idea of control via individuality is, to me, the most compelling part of the book. The narrator is a 500-year-old parasite in a body whose only job and purpose in “life” is to serve. The detachment and indifference to the medical procedures and symptoms can be quite unsettling, but it really works. It’s in the nature of our narrator’s work but it also rings true to the horror subgenre. It lends itself well to a stark contrast between the human characters and those parading as human.
As far as antagonists go, there are some very clear answers but it takes going through some frosty caves and the muddy waters of memory to get that clarity. There are some heavy and distressing situations towards the latter quarter of the book where every secret becomes revealed. It’s more human than just the truth about the parasite that’s making everyone sick, which brings a melancholy to the creepiness. I found the ending, however, cathartic but it is a journey to get there.
Leech is a chilling addition to any bookshelf if you enjoy manors full of secrets and beings with intentions both as simple and as morally complex as survival.