The prairie home in Amy Lukavics’ Daughters Unto Devils is not a home for the faint of heart – and neither is the horror novel, which Kirkus recommends as “best read late at night in a tent with a trusted friend nearby.”
Daughters Unto Devils follows Amanda Verner, whose family moves from their mountain home to a prairie cabin in the mid-1800s. For Amanda, it could be the dream escape – an escape from the visions she saw, of her crying sister, of the boy whose child she carries. But when they arrive at their new home – the inside painted in blood – it becomes obvious that something isn’t right. And as rumours begin to reach their ears, stories of men who murdered their families, Amanda begins to wonder if their new home is tainted with evil – or if she is the one who carries the devil inside her.
For an author concocting such terrifying concepts, it took Lukavics a long time to dabble explicitly in the genre. Though she’d always wanted to write horror, her first three attempts at novels were dark contemporaries that never sold to publishing houses. She took it as a sign to “give the genre of [her]heart a whirl.”
“I’d read horror since I was a child and could never get enough of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, which were written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated brilliantly by Stephen Gammell. I was also obsessed with the Goosebumps and Fear Street series by RL Stine, and of course, anything by Stephen King – but especially Pet Sematary and Carrie.”
While a specific scene inspired the entire story – one so filled with death and spoilers that Lukavics refused to specify which scene it was – it took work to craft the horror that haunts every page of Daughters Unto Devils. She wanted nightmares to come from the “vast and isolated” prairie, both for the reader and for Amanda, “who already feels maddeningly isolated before she even arrives. It makes for one hell of a scary situation.
But the telling of scary stories are part of the narrative tradition. Every story has an element of evil in it. Horror amplifies it, draws attention to it, twists the realistic aspects of it until the evil feels like the stuff of nightmares – something not quite real, something readers can’t quite grasp, but that help guide them through the day to day.
Lukavics loves it.
“I think that people have used scary storytelling for centuries to sort of make sense of various horrors of the real world that dwell within humanity. Children especially can be drawn to the dark and unexplained for this reason, I think, but there are also the horror fans who simply engage for the thrill that the fear stirs up in them. It’s not for everybody, but at the same time, there is something for everybody within horror if they’re up to seeking it out. The genre stretches over such a wide range of different sub-types that it’s uninformed and a little silly to lump it all together.”
Daughter Unto Devils is available now.
“If you’re looking for a feel-good romance story where everybody makes it out alive,” warns Lukavics, “this is not the book for you!”