Published by John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books on November 13, 2018
Amityville baywoman Ellie West fishes by day and bootlegs moonshine by night. It's dangerous work under Prohibition--independent operators like her are despised by federal agents and mobsters alike--but Ellie's brother was accepted to college and Ellie's desperate to see him go. So desperate that when wealthy strangers ask her to procure libations for an extravagant party Ellie sells them everything she has, including some booze she acquired under unusual circumstances.
What Ellie doesn't know is that this booze is special. Distilled from foul mushrooms by a cult of diabolists, those who drink it see terrible things--like the destruction of Long Island in fire and flood. The cult is masquerading as a church promising salvation through temperance and a return to "the good old days," so it's hard for Ellie to take a stand against them, especially when her father joins, but Ellie loves Long Island, and she loves her family, and she'll do whatever it takes to ensure neither is torn apart.
I really enjoyed Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Will and Temper, so I was quite excited about the sequel Creatures of Want and Ruin. I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint.
The great thing is, this isn’t directly a sequel. You can read either book on its own and enjoy it. The first book was a gender-bent reimagining of Dorian Gray. The second book has a more Lovecraftian feel, and is set on Long Island during the Prohibition. The two books have an ocean and several decades between, and their own unique cast of characters. However, they take place in the same world and both deal with the same concept of demons.
I greatly enjoyed the Long Island setting. The story takes place in and around Amityville, NY. My in-laws live on Long Island and my brother-in-law used to work in Amityville. Obviously it’s changed a lot in the decades since the fictional events of this book, but I still had a strong geographical sense of place based on my visits there.
True story: I once saw a weird mushroom in Amityville and I was going to use it as the seed for a book in the series I was working on at the time. This book also involves weird mushrooms in Amityville. Other than that, and Lovecraftian inspo, my unwritten book has nothing to do with this book, but it was a funny coincidence that just deepened my enjoyment of what I was reading.
Creatures of Want and Ruin focuses on two main characters. Ellie is Long Island born and bred, and also a rumrunner. Fin is a wealthy woman, summering on Long Island with her husband and her friends, although she’s starting to feel like she doesn’t fit in. The two of them end up drawn into strange events surrounding a cult masquerading as a tent revival style church.
This book doesn’t shy away from 1920s racism. The church isn’t just concerned with religion, they’re concerned with race. They believe that Long Island belongs to native Long Islanders — and of course, their definition of “native” is white people who have been on the island for enough generations. Ellie’s Polish fiance isn’t white enough for them, for instance, and they certainly don’t like SJ, the black woman who brews the hooch that Ellie delivers.
I think it’s easy for us to forget, here in 2018, that racism has always been a shifting thing. People have drawn lines and said “Everyone on this side of the line is OK, no one else is.” They look for perceived differences and use those to “prove” that others are inferior, or dangerous, or both. Cultural differences have been used as excuses for discrimination, as well as skin color and national origin. Hateful people will always find something to hate people for, whether it is race, religion, sexual orientation, or something else.
And in this book, even some of the “good guys” show a degree of racism. Ellie’s cop friend regularly refers to her fiance as a “Pollack.”
Ultimately, there are a lot of clashes in this book. Clashes based on generational expectations, race, class differences, disagreements within relationships. The protagonists have to overcome their conflicts with each other in order to face the growing menace of the murderous, racist cult. Some people ultimately decide that their own comfort is more important than doing the right thing. Not everything works out how everyone would want it to. It’s messy, but life is messy.
One thing I enjoyed about both of the books in this series is how the author finds ways to make her female characters competent combatants. The first book centered around fencing. In this book, Ellie is an amateur boxer, and Fin does archery. I also loved how independent Ellie was, sailing the bay alone in her little rumrunning boat.
Content warning: There is a dog in this book. The dog does not make it. I know this is a deal breaker for some, and it was hard for me.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for generously providing me with an ARC of this novel!