Time for another horror novel folks, and I have to say this one left me in a bit of a tizzy. Slewfoot, by Brom, is a slow burn historical horror that captures Puritan culture vividly, but falters when delivering on the horror and its themes.
Slewfoot is the story of Abitha, an Englishwoman sold as a wife to Edward, a puritan in the Connecticut colonies. Though she is clearly an outcast, she tries her damndest to fit in, and make Edward happy. However, after their goat is lured to a cavern to its death, so too is Edward and Abitha is left to fend for herself. While she attempts to fight off her greedy brother in law Wallace, an ancient creature begins to awaken after feasting upon Edward. This creature, known to many as Slewfoot, awakens with no memories, and is guided by the wildfolk, who call him both Father and slayer. Slewfoot, lost and confused as to who he is, befriends Abitha, and is renamed Samson after her lost goat. In return, he helps her with her small plot of land and her plight against Wallace, opening up accusations of witchery.
Slewfoot is a weird novel to me. On its most basic level, it’s a story about how a woman becomes a witch, and it mostly succeeds in telling that story. Brom’s characters are fun and they easily shepherded me through the story. Even though Abitha sticks out like a sore thumb, she is somewhat grounded by her intense desire to feel a part of something.The wildfolk were fun and mischievous and had a boogey’s minion vibe to them that added to the absurdity of the folk horror. Samson was a lost and lonely soul that felt divorced from his past, and felt torn between the two versions of himself; one he rediscovers as a giver of life, and one he is told, a slayer of men.
The perspective shifts kept the pace even, providing wider context to the story as more of the drama ensued. Brom’s writing was pitch perfect for most of the book, allowing the story to unfold, and helping to build up to the final act and all of its terrifying glory. He clearly evoked the dreary setting of an early colonial village in “New England”, my favorite kind of setting for spooky vibes, given the horrors that they would soon begin to visit upon the land. While the majority of the story is not scary, there is an atmosphere that slowly fills with tension that never quite snaps all the way back.
Slewfoot will tend to feel more like a historical fiction with horror fantasy elements, and that’s okay for me, as horror needs context. And by God, does Brom provide context. The real horror comes from Brom’s depiction of day to day life of Puritan colonies and the capitalist machinations that drove their way of life. It fascinated me to no end how Brom outlines the ways in which normal people, and particularly women were seen as, and used as extensions of property. From how Abitha’s father sold her to the British government to be used in the colony, to how Wallace used Edward’s portion of the land as a bargaining chip, and how her life became a part of the bargain when Edward died. There were plenty of other ways these dynamics were explored, especially within the confines of the Puritan religion itself, constricting individuals in ways that forced them to act against themselves, turning them into property to be exploited by men of power.
Unfortunately, Slewfoot doesn’t really capitalize(EHHHHHH??) on this aspect of the book. Instead of unearthing the banal horrors of Puritan society as the root, it becomes a fairly standard battle of good and evil. While the humans are clearly shown to be evil, it’s done in a sort of generalized “humanity is evil” way and doesn’t specifically point the finger at the Puritan’s worldview. While I bought into Samson’s story as a character, it also kind of flattens paganism, drawing a divide between Christianity, and everything else. While it fits into how Puritans labeled the forest and its ilk as the domain of Satan, it plays a little too much into it, erasing the Pequot and any sort of cultural vibrancy and conflict they would have with the Puritan colony.
Slewfoot is an enjoyable read that follows a predictable path. It’s made more interesting by Brom’s writing, and his ability to highlight some of the more awful aspects of property laws at the time. However, it also fails to recognize the horrors within its reach, dropping them for the “it’s the humans who are evil” trope that tends to plague witchcraft stories. I liked Slewfoot, but it’s hard to really like something when it shows you how much more interesting it could have been before covering it up with the same old outfit you’ve come to know.
Rating: Slewfoot 6.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.