Book Review

Lone Women

Lone Women

  • Author: Victor LaValle
  • Genre: Horror
  • Publication Date: March 28, 2023
  • Publisher: One World

Thank you to NetGalley and One World for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: death of a parent, blood, murder, racism, mention of ableism, mention of bullying, violence, gore, grief, homophobia, transphobia

Blue skies, empty land—and enough room to hide away a horrifying secret. Or is there? Discover a haunting new vision of the American West from the award-winning author of The Changeling.

Adelaide Henry carries an enormous steamer trunk with her wherever she goes. It’s locked at all times. Because when the trunk is opened, people around her start to disappear…

The year is 1914, and Adelaide is in trouble. Her secret sin killed her parents, and forced her to flee her hometown of Redondo, California, in a hellfire rush, ready to make her way to Montana as a homesteader. Dragging the trunk with her at every stop, she will be one of the “lone women” taking advantage of the government’s offer of free land for those who can cultivate it—except that Adelaide isn’t alone. And the secret she’s tried so desperately to lock away might be the only thing keeping her alive.

Told in Victor LaValle’s signature style, blending historical fiction, shimmering prose, and inventive horror, Lone Women is the gripping story of a woman desperate to bury her past—and a portrait of early twentieth-century America like you’ve never seen.

I came across this book and it sounded intriguing, but also kind of scary. And I was on the fence about requesting it, because I’m notable as a wuss, but ultimately my curiosity won out. I’m so glad it did, because this was the type of “horror lite” that I love, where the story was fantastic, and it was more of a creepy and tense ride than a jump scare kind of story.

In 1914, homesteading was a new option, in a land where options for women and Black people were limited. Purchasing a plot and making it productive within 3 years meant that you owned the land free and clear forever. And this was an option available to both women and Black people. So after casually burning down her family home with her deceased parents in it, Adelaide Henry decided to try her hand at homesteading in the wide open spaces of Montana. All she had with her was a steamer trunk with her secrets locked inside.

It was easy to empathize with Adelaide right off the bat. She’s a woman out on her own for the first time in her life, in a world that isn’t exactly welcoming to women, especially women of color. But she wasn’t afraid of hard work, and she was well aware of her capabilities. However, it’s clear right from the start that this journey is more than she expected. And I couldn’t help but feel for her, especially when I put myself in her shoes. 

The part of this story that impressed me the most is all of the side characters. They are each well-developed, and have their own part in the story, with a plot thread of their own that weaves into the storyline in a meaningful way. Each of the lone women in this story faces a unique challenge, and I loved how they all found their way to each other for friendship and support. 

Any good horror (or horror lite) story needs to maintain a sense of tension, and this one does that beautifully. At the beginning, I couldn’t wait to find out what was in the trunk, while also dreading the discovery. And once I found out what was in it, the tension didn’t dissipate. LaValle manages to divert that tension in a different direction, and keep it going. And beyond that tension is a simmering unrest within the town that branches off in various ways—involving racism, othering, fear-mongering, and xenophobia.

Overall, this was exactly the kind of horror book that I love, and LaValle manages to wrap up all the different plot threads perfectly. It discusses both personal and societal issues at the time, many of which are still problems today, making this a perfect and appropriate read. And perhaps the scariest thing about this book is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. But at the same time, I love a fiction book that helps me learn more about history without ever feeling like it’s teaching me anything. This was a fantastic read without being too outright scary.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 19

6 replies »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.