Molly Southbourne – Life After Death After Death After Death

I make it no secret that I love Tade Thompson’s work. Ever since the Rosewater Trilogy I’ve been hooked and eagerly anticipate any new releases with his name on them. However, I waited until The Legacy of Molly Southbourne was released before diving into his trilogy of horror novellas.

I make it no secret that I love Tade Thompson’s work. Ever since the Rosewater Trilogy I’ve been hooked and eagerly anticipate any new releases with his name on them. However, I waited until The Legacy of Molly Southbourne was released before diving into his trilogy of horror novellas.

Molly Southbourne has no problem killing herself. In fact, ever since she was child, it’s all her mother really taught her to do. Well, only after don’t bleed and run. You see, whenever Molly bleeds, another molly appears. Sometimes it’s days, sometimes it’s hours, but you can always count on one to show up, even after a tiny cut. And they really want to kill Molly. So her mother, Mykhaila, teaches her how to fight, and how to fight dirty, in order to survive the hell that she was born into. It’s hard to live a normal life when you might have to kill yourself at any moment.  Molly tries, with varying degrees of success. But does she actually have to kill the other mollys?

(For consistency, I will refer to the original as Molly, and her murderous doppelgangers as molly, as they are in the books.)

In all honesty, this series will be hard to talk about as a whole without some spoilers for the first two books, The Murders of Molly Southbourne and The Survival of Molly Southbourne. So I will split this review into three parts, each diving slightly into the successive books. They are short, incredibly fun, and an entirely unique experience. So if you’re a fan of horror, whether because of its incisive commentary, the fact that it can be a bloody good time, or the perfect combination of both, you owe it to yourself to check these novellas out.

The Murders

Book one starts with a molly, tied up and beaten. She doesn’t know where she is, but she knows that the Molly is directly in front of her, and boy oh boy does she have a story to tell. Molly recounts the first twenty some years of her life to this tied up molly, digging into every gory detail. She explains her condition, the battles she has won, the war she has lost, and the incessant despair she wakes up to everyday. It’s a brutal life I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Thompson succeeds in relaying the story in a way that emphasizes the pain Molly goes through. Whether it’s physical, psychological, or emotional, Molly is put through the ringer. It’s captured in a way that shows her slowly coming to grips with everything as she gets older. She’s confused, curious and scared as a child. She doesn’t know how to react except by listening to her parents. The rules govern her life, and she barely has any freedom to be someone outside of who her mother has made her. She sees her mother destroy mollys without hesitation. Her father, while skeptical, only looks on, not really intervening.

The danger increases when she leaves home to go to college. She doesn’t have her martial arts guru mother to watch her back when she sleeps. She has to constantly look over her shoulder to make sure a molly doesn’t sneak up on her, or show their face to a fellow student. It’s an exhausting way of life, and leads to Molly having very few friends. Hell, even her classes take a back seat to the constant invasion of mollys.

There are some weirder aspects that I won’t delve into too much here. Some of it due to spoilers, some of it due to horror aspects, and some of it involves darker but still human subjects. But Thompson handles them deftly, making them both horrifying, sobering and sad.

The Survival

This is the final warning, spoilers for book 1 lie ahead.

Molly kills herself at the end of book 1. Not just a molly, she ends her own life. The molly we heard the stories through, she becomes the new “prime.” Though she doesn’t quite know it yet, she’s been given a chance to live her life as she wants. Oddly, when she bleeds, new doppelgangers do not appear. But that doesn’t stop the missing and unknown mollys from showing up at her door with vengeance in their eyes. And while her body sings a silent siren song to her sisters, people from her mother’s past take an interest. They want her powers, skills, and knowledge, though to what end, Molly does not know.

Enter Tamara, another woman who seems to have the same affliction as Molly. However, she lives and works with all of her sisters. They take on different jobs, support each other, and don’t kill one another the second a new one is brought into the world. Tamara is strong and determined, though to what ends, it’s hard for Molly to tell. The only thing she really knows is that Tamara wants Molly to train the Tamaras in her frantic, dirty and successful fighting style. Tamara has given her a glimpse of how to live with the various aspects of herself, but does Molly really want to live like Tamara? And does Tamara really have Molly’s best interests at heart?

I enjoyed the exploration of Molly’s freedom. She has the ability to make choices for herself, free from the curse that plagued her forebear. She has history and baggage to clean up, but she herself does not have the blood of her sisters on her hands. She knows the horror the original had to live through and tries her damndest not to repeat those mistakes. Try as she might though, the remaining mollys still want her dead. I especially liked how Molly used her skills to subdue the other mollies, so she can later talk to them. This one is not a killer, and almost dies several times trying to save her sisters.

The horror is still strong, with a mysterious side plot that comes to fruition in a way that only deliciously gory body horror does. It’s gruesome, gross and honestly a little fun. There are also some upsetting features as well. Thompson does a great job walking the line of when something should be seen as amusing horror and the solemn horror of realization.

The Legacy

I did not enjoy the final book in the same way as the previous two the first time I read it. It felt disjointed, and while I understood the story and felt it was necessary, I wasn’t particularly into it. But after some time, and a reread of the whole series, I came to appreciate Legacy.

The Legacy of Molly Southbourne is not so much about Molly, as it is about the people who surround Molly. Yes there are bits and pieces showcasing Molly as she lives with three other mollys (each adopting their own name) as they go through group therapy, whilst hiding their big secret. These are fun and tense scenes as the various sisters talk about how much they want to kill one another interspersed with ruminations on how they want to live their life. I loved watching them try to get to know each other and get past the innate urge to destroy one another.

But a large portion of the book is dedicated to Myke. Yes, it’s Molly’s mother, and Thompson definitely does not try to hide it. But the name change is definitely a huge part of her story. But Myke is here to clean up. The mollys killed her Molly and it’s time for vengeance. We see her backstory, and the cold war spying she went through that led to Molly’s curse. It’s both schlocky cold war conspiracy stuff mixed in with heartfelt horror. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s definitely an eye opener for the rest of the characters.

The whole book has a weird feeling to it. It’s got Thompson’s classic genre mashup atmosphere, where it feels like three or four different genres of movies. Yes, I said movies because it has that level of pacing and the feel of action movies from the time period, but with a little more grime and emotion attached to it. There are several satisfying moments that make you whoop as if you’re in a theater. It’s a rollicking time.

In the end, Molly Southbourne is a wild ride. It’s a story about neglect, and how you can really fuck up your kids through rigidity. It’s about learning to love yourself, even the aspects you hate and quite understand. It’s about learning from others about how to live your life. It deals with how fucking weird it is to be a human being, and how one’s curiosity about oneself and the world can easily be stamped out by simple mantras. There is so much more I can list all the different things these books made me think about until I am red in the face. But instead, if you have a stomach for body horror, a curiosity for the grotesque and heart enough to take it all in stride with compassion, I highly recommend you read The Murders of Molly Southbourne and it’s sequels.

Rating: Molly Southbourne – 8.5/10


An ARC of The Legacy of Molly Southbourne was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.

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