“As I Descended” by Robin Talley

I requested this from NetGalley because I enjoyed Lies We Tell Ourselves and I knew that Robin Talley tends to write queer characters and f/f relationships, so I thought it might be fun, although I don’t generally enjoy creepy horror books. I don’t mind a bit of creepiness, but I usually don’t go for books where that’s the whole point, especially when it’s the kind that involves ouija boards and spirits and that kind of thing.

With that in mind, it’s probably not surprising that I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the first book I read by Robin Talley — these are tropes that I’m a bit wary of and don’t particularly enjoy. I’m sure it’s at least partly because my family were very disapproving of that kind of stuff when I was growing up (we didn’t celebrate Hallowe’en, for a start) and that’s probably created some kind of disconnect for me.

as i descended

The book manages to use these conventions in a reasonably original manner, helped by the fact that the main cast are highly intelligent, motivated people — and queer girls to boot — rather than the usual clueless types you see raising spirits in horror movies while drunk at parties or whatever. That said, they still made plenty of bad life choices, such as messing around with spirits in the first place. Especially when one of them had experienced them before and so knew for a fact that they were real. Like, dude. Don’t even mess with that. Just leave it be.

To a certain extent, there’s a curious lack of resolution in the book. While immediate events are sorted out, the overall problem of the ghosts and stuff that haunt the school, and apparently have been doing so for a fair while, doesn’t seem to have been resolved. The implication is that the same thing could easily be repeated, and it was less a case of getting to the bottom of it and removing the causes than just getting themselves out of the situation.

The writing is okay, and there were some aspects that were super relatable. Lily, for example, is disabled after an accident when she was younger, and deals with chronic pain. There’s a description of that which was very relatable for me as someone with chronic pain (though not as bad as hers, I was having a particularly bad day when I read this, so it resonated):

Lily had lived with the same pain for so long it felt like a part of her. The worst days, though, were when the pain was different. When it came faster, or harsher, or fiercer than she was used to. When it prickled instead of throbbed. When it attacked her right ankle instead of her left knee. When it woke her up at night instead of aching dully first thing in the morning. On those days, her standard-issue pain was replaced by something different and frightning, something that took over her body and left her without the slightest clue of when, or even if, it would release her. Those times, her pain wasn’t a part of her anymore. Those times, she was a part of it.

However, on the whole the stylistic elements didn’t win me over, and I wasn’t awed by the descriptive passages or whatever. I have ridiculously high standards when it comes to that kind of thing, admittedly. There’s also some humour and sarcasm that I enjoyed and read aloud to Charley, who was with me while I was reading it, so that’s always a positive.

Betwen the atheism and the lesbian thing, Lily was a terrible Catholic. Even before she’d added murder to her list of sins.

Robin Talley definitely manages to create the evocatively creepy atmosphere, while also having moments of levity. However, I have to say that on the whole, this wasn’t one that particularly clicked with me.

Rating: ***

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