Fitcher's Brides is Gregory Frost's spine-tingling contribution to editor Terri Windling's acclaimed Fairy Tale Series, a long-running project in which contemporary authors offer modern takes on the sometimes creepy classics that fascinated us as children. With Windling herself providing an introductory essay, Frost rewrites one of the darkest and bloodiest fairy tales, Bluebeard, setting it in a 19th century apocalyptic cult.
In the original story, Bluebeard gives his wife a set of house keys and tells her she may go anywhere except one room. The young wife, of course, cannot resist the allure of the forbidden. In Frost's retelling, the Charter family sisters Vernelia (Vern), Amy and Kate, and their father and stepmother leave Boston in 1843 to follow Elais Fitcher, a preacher who has announced that the world is going to end. Fitcher is a highly charismatic preacher whose tours have brought thousands to Harbinger, the communal village his followers have built in upper New York State. One bridge connects Harbinger to the rest of the world, across Jekyll's Gorge.
The sisters don't have time to miss Boston. Their stepmother gives them the tasks of putting their new house in order and working the tollgate to the bridge. The girls quickly discover that no one knows what happened to the last tenants of their house; even stranger, the ghost of a young Shaker man starts communicating with them by rapping on the walls. When the Reverend Fitcher arrives unexpectedly one day, he brushes off Mr. Charter's apologies about his family's lack of preparedness, "Do not worry about the niceties. . . . They are all of the corporeal sphere, little pleasures and temptations and comforts to make us forget who and what we truly are." The girls are fascinated; Vern, the eldest, is quickly wooed and wed by Fitcher.
Fitcher's Brides is divided into three sections, each narrated by a different sister. One by one they are drawn into Harbinger, and Fitcher's clutches. The novel is suspenseful, spooky and hard to put down, especially as the sisters begin to uncover Fitcher's secrets, and as Fitcher's apocalypse approaches. Frost's finely detailed chiller will stay with the reader for a long time. Gavin Grant reads, writes and publishes speculative fiction in Brooklyn, New York.