Genre: Adult, Horror.
Read It If You Like: Aztec Gods, Explicit Sex Scenes, Monster Wives, LGBTQ+, Queer Horror, Redemption Arcs, Revenge Narratives, Urban Legends.
Content Warnings: Gore, Hate Crimes, On-Page Murder, Racism, Suicide, Attempted Sexual Assault.
Rating: ✩✩✩✩ 1/2
Disclosure: This is an ARC review.
What It’s About
Belinda Alvarez is going through a midlife crisis. Currently sitting at a crossroads in her career, and at odds with her teenage son, Belinda has spent her entire life struggling with failed relationships and self-esteem issues. When her best friend asks her to attend a farm-themed wedding, Belinda tries to control her despair and packs her bags for Texas.
Once she arrives, she realizes that the farmhouse where the wedding is being held was actually the location of an infamous hate crime from the 1950s. The murder was so brutal in its violence that the area has been cursed ever since.
Hoping to reunite the victim with their long-lost family in Mexico, Belinda digs deeper into the facts surrounding the decades-old event. As she does, she discovers that the urban legend that sprang from this murder holds some truth to it—and that an Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacíhuatl, is determined to seek vengeance on the victim’s behalf.
A vivid, fast-paced horror novel with sharp-edged observations that cut like glass, THE QUEEN OF THE CICADAS first made its way into my hands as an advanced reader copy. Needless to say, it was an ARC that immediately caught my eye.
A story centered around vengeance? Death gods, and urban legends? All of these elements are things that I naturally gravitate towards, so I couldn’t wait to start reading. THE QUEEN OF THE CICADAS started off more or less where I thought it would, but by the end, it had morphed into an entirely different narrative.
The surprise was a welcome one that left me thrilled.
CICADAS has all the trappings of an “urban legend horror book,” if that’s the sort of vibe you go for. There is an unspeakable crime that fractures a community for generations to come, an evil deed so profound that it blights the land upon which the event occurred. Female spirits seeking vengeance against those who wronged them are always a winner, and sure enough, CICADAS has classic jump scares and terrifying creatures that go bump in the night.
For all the horror in CICADAS, though, there was hope in this book, too.
Without spoilers: I love how Belinda feels so deeply for the murdered farmworker, Milagros. How this book makes a great point about the idea of “physical” monsters versus “true” monsters, and the ways in which these two concepts are often conflated in American media.
When Belinda meets the supernatural entity behind the urban legend, she actively fights against this trend. Her response is one of fascination and empathy, not fear.
Although Belinda’s romantic entanglements are not the only focus of this novel, the tension and mutual interest between her and Mictecacíhuatl is riveting. Mictecacíhuatl is probably one of the most interesting quote-unquote “monsters” that I’ve come across in a horror story, and this is because beyond the gore, and the jump scares, and her appearance, she’s not actually some faceless entity simply there for shock value.
Mictecacíhuatl has so much curiosity and wit; a sardonic, almost flippant quality to the way that she views things. This is combined with an intuitive understanding of other people’s motivations, along with a deep rage that she has nursed through the centuries towards the colonial injustices that she has observed.
By the end of the book, I found myself viewing Mictecacíhuatl not as an urban legend, but as yet another woman in a long line of women who had been wronged. For me, she read as a reclamation, as a person who was taking back her own narrative.
Mictecacíhuatl’s character arc really resonated with me, so I reached out to Castro, to ask for more insight into the character.
“I included The Queen of The Dead because I feel my ancestral history is not explored enough,” Castro says. “Our history was destroyed and ultimately erased. It is indeed a reclamation. But I also feel that the identities of women have evolved over time and not all these identities we create ourselves. She embodies all the emotions of a human woman with the power of something else entirely. I personally feel women possess much more power than we are allowed to express. She is unfiltered expression.”
Would I Recommend This Book to Others?
Yes. I have a couple of qualms about how the story views disability (basically the “disability as punishment” trope makes an appearance) but other than that, I overwhelmingly enjoyed this book. It’s a fantastic story and a must-read horror novel for 2021.
THE QUEEN OF THE CICADAS will hit bookshelves on June 22, 2021. I strongly recommend a preorder.