Release Date: September 5, 2020
Publisher: Neon Hemlock Press
“Powerful shipping magnate Evelyn Perdanu lives a tight, contained life, holding herself at a distance from all who would get close to her. Her family is dead, her country is dying, and when something foul comes to the city of Delphinium, the brittle, perilous existence she’s built for herself is strained to breaking.
When one of her ships arrives in dock, she counts herself lucky that it made it through the military blockades slowly strangling her city. But one by one, the crew fall ill with a mysterious sickness: an intense light in their eyes and obsessive behavior, followed by a catatonic stupor. Even as Evelyn works to exonerate her company of bringing plague into her besieged capital city, more and more cases develop, and the afflicted all share one singular obsession: her.
Panicked and paranoid, she retreats to her estate, which rests on a foundation of secrets: the deaths of her family, the poisons and cures that hasten the dissolution of the remaining upper classes, and a rebel soldier, incapacitated and held hostage in a desperate bid for information. But the afflicted are closing in on her, and bringing the attention of the law with them. Evelyn must unearth her connection to the spreading illness, and fast, before it takes root inside her home and destroys all that she has built.”
Yellow Jessamine is…a lot. It’s an intense story with intense characters, intense dialogue, a hella intense plot. Bodies upon bodies, lies and corruption and coups and disasters. It’s one horror after another, yet it doesn’t quite crossover into becoming unrelenting or untenable. In a way it reminds me a bit of another novella, The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht, in that it works so well precisely because it’s short. If it were a full-length novel, it would probably be too overwhelming, but at 131 pages it’s exactly enough.
Caitlin Starling packs those few pages with not quite enough worldbuilding but a whole lot of character exploration and development. This is not a plot heavy book; a mysterious plague infects the people around Evelyn and she reacts by murdering everyone she can get her poison-tinged hands on. That’s pretty much it. The real meat of the story hinges on Evelyn herself, as well as the assistant she secretly loves and an ex-naval officer who has the unfortunate luck to wind up “convalescing” in her “care.”
This is a tragic tale of love lost, of acts of violence that are simultaneously selfless and selfish. Delphinium is a city on the brink of ruin, both internal and external, and nothing can stave off the inevitable. Her world is drenched in so much blood that at this point it doesn’t really matter where it comes from or who caused it. Evelyn is the living embodiment of that world. She kills, but sometimes she has a good reason for it. She isn’t evil, per se, but neither is she an innocent.
Fans of dark fantasy and horror would do well to pick up Caitlin Starling’s Yellow Jessamine. It’s wickedly refreshing and delightfully unsettling.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.