Published by JournalStone on November 16, 2018
Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Psychological Horror, Suspense, Thriller, Weird Tales
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Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.
It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.
As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.
Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.
THE RUST MAIDENS is the first that I have read by author Gwendolyn Kiste. When I found out that this was her debut novel, I was honestly shocked. During the transition from short stories to a FIRST full-length book, I would expect at least a few things to be “less than perfect”.
In my opinion, this is a SOLID five-star novel, from beginning to end.
“Things change . . . Sometimes it’s for the better, and sometimes it’s not.”
Phoebe Shaw is returning to her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, for the first time since she left 28 years ago. The novel then alternates between events that happened in 1980–namely, the Rust Maidens, which were the catalyst for all that Phoebe had done since–and the current time frame. These two sections combine beautifully to showcase the past, and Phoebe’s attempts at understanding those changes even now, in the present.
“. . . they’d somehow forgotten that girls were people too.”
I really went into this one blindly–without any pre-conceived notions–as I hadn’t read any specifics on what the story was about. This could be partially why I was so overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and honesty presented here. The other part is simply because, Gwendolyn Kiste really IS that good.
“. . . It’s trapped in-between. Trapped like me.”
When changes start manifesting in some of the girls on Denton street, this is only one of the many things that the author is conveying. These changes are symbolic, as well as physical. They showcase in a sense, the dynamics of being a girl in 1980, and what their expected “place” was. In a local sense, it shows their role in their own hometown, and in a broader sense, the reader can see the similarities and parallels drawn between the Rust Maidens and the changes overcoming Cleveland.
“This was the great lie we invented, that we could actually escape ourselves . . . “
This novel has the reader going through a large array of emotions. You have the great love that Phoebe has for her cousin–and “partner in crime”–Jacqueline. There’s frustration in living in a town where their way of life is inevitably coming to an end. The biggest event by far though, is the emergence of what would then be called “The Rust Maidens”.
“. . . As our lives assumed a new and unwanted rhythm, this became a summer of unlikely lessons.”
The characterization here is just as solid as the environment–perhaps even more so. Not only is Phoebe presented so completely, but also her family, government officials, the townspeople, and the five girls . . . changing . . .
“Sometimes change was a mercy.”
Kiste gives her readers every thought and reasoning they could possibly need in order to understand that for some, there was no choice–no hope–in what their futures might hold.
“. . . maybe hope doesn’t look the way you expect it to.”
In this society, especially for the women, there was a slim chance of ever becoming more than what your own mother was. Only those with enough conviction and courage to stand out, had the odds of a different sort of life in their favor.
“. . . you could still see each of them hidden there behind the decay . . . They were just different. Simple as that.”
Overall, I was overwhelmed by the depth, style, and complexity of ideas presented in this novel. Of course, I bought this book because I had been hearing many good things about its author, Gwendolyn Kiste, and wanted to see for myself if they were well-founded.
The answer to that was clear as I consumed THE RUST MAIDENS in two or three sittings at most–wanting to know more, yet simultaneously never wanting the words to come to an end.
“. . . so rarely is one lifetime long enough.”
In my opinion, Kiste is one of the best new authors I’ve come across lately. Her writing is simply beautiful–at times almost poetic, even when the subject matter is less than. She has the ability to take the reader out of their own reality and–for a time–transport them into one she’s created. For myself, this feeling comes back still whenever I think about this book.
“. . . Sometimes the only satisfying answer, the only one that would make you stop wondering, was the only one you never wanted to come.”