Summary: A family is found slaughtered in their home, yet their corpses still move; committed to the routine of their daily lives, heedless of their own grisly deaths. A local occultist commune is suspected of the crime. The bloody legacy of Catholicism and the dark roots of ancient paganism intertwine in the aftermath of a recent national revolution. Welcome to the Ireland of tomorrow.
Two ex-Gardai officers, a former Franciscan monk and a young trans woman race to determine the cause of the slayings before tensions in the community boil over and kick off a new Satanic Panic, driving the tenuous fledgling nation back into the arms of the Church.
Crom Cruach is a distinctly Irish anxiety piece about the reluctant future and repressed past of a country trying to shrug off the shackles of colonialism, wrapped in the shiny black leather of Giallo and written in a poetic style fit for the fog-shrouded mysticism of the emerald isle.
Content Warnings: Listed in the back of the book!
Review: For a few months now, I’ve been saying that the indie scene is making the best horror out there now. Indie authors and publishers refuse to play it safe. Often, their efforts create the most ambitious and beautiful works of art being made right now.
Crom Cruach by Valkyrie Loughcrewe is an excellent example of this phenomena! Long have I anticipated this release, and it’s managed to meet every single one of my expectations.
First of all, I need to emphasize some of the more unique aspects of this genre entry. Crom Cruach is a a horror novel in verse. And it’s good verse, too! The actual poetics of the book make for gorgeous reading. Most of the sections are in free verse, but Loughcrewe even utilizes meter and rhyme to portray an ancient flashback. Just on that fundamental line by line level, this novella is an achievement!
But what makes Loughcrewe’s first book good extends beyond the poetics. For one thing, the novella’s plot is ambitious in its scope. Crom Cruach tackles communal politics, the threat of right-wing backlash to civil gains, queerphobia, religious domination and colonization. In generic terms, the novella manages to be a zombie story, a religious horror novel, a cosmic horror tale, and a political thriller! All of this, yet somehow, some way, all these disparate elements come together to tell a story I don’t think anybody else could have told.
Perhaps, even more impressive, is that, with all the work needed to make this come together, Loughcrewe still manages to create human characters with realistic motivations and desires. So many writers struggle to balance these factors: character vs. plot, setting vs. dialogue, poetics vs. prose. Valkyrie Loughcrewe nails it on their first try.
For those of you who want more plot details before getting the book, I’m afraid this review might not be for you. I refuse to spoil this book any more than what the blurb gets you. It would just ruin the experience. Crom Cruach deserves to be experienced head-on. Think of this book as a blind cliff dive. It will be a thrilling yet rewarding memory for all the years to come.