My review for The Mouth is a Coven, by Liz Worth, first appeared in The Horror Zine. Please go there to see more reviews by me and other staff book reviewers as well as fiction, poetry, and art by many of today's established and up and coming horror-creatives. This review is reposted with permission.
Liz Worth saves no cats in The Mouth is a Coven, but she does manage to challenge the reader with a very questionable omniscient narrator, who may be somewhat insane and possibly one of the sordid people trapped in this novel; or maybe she is just completely telling the truth, as weird as it is. “Now I’m just a girl in someone else’s dream, pointing at a sticky note pasted to a wall and saying, “This is all you need to know about this story.”’
I tossed in the towel about half-way through, then had the towel tossed back in my face. There is a rhythm to the many “there’s a story told…” lead-ins to the mysteries surrounding the locale, and there is a method to the folie à deux here. Worth dives deep into the empty lives of Blue and Julie as they desperately seek escape from the mundane through vampirism with the help of some living, and dead, acquaintances.
Why all of her doom-buggy riding people (actually, there are many folies à deux) are so empty inside and out—and intent to be so—makes this novel something you can take at face value as the horror extant, the search for Matter, the godlike vampire Blue and Julie hope will give them immortality and power; or the horror internal as you disbelieve the truthfulness of the narrator as she recalls events like a bat on the wall* and the shaky social relationships recalled.
This is not your usual vampire story. No romantic yearnings with fangs, no frilly-sleeved pathos.
Instead, there is the weird Starling City, deep with its vibe of a Lakeside or Derry or Sunnydale, where people go missing often, ghosts walk the streets often, and the Goth scene is thick as clotted blood.* Then you have Matter, the supreme vampire, who, hopefully, will turn Blue and Julie, but he is hard to find and indifferent to mere mortals. There are others: Jenny and Dorian, the oracles of Starling City, leaving witch bottles around town full of screams; the ghost of Samantha, Blue’s sister; Crook and Cassie, who may or may not have sex on freshly dug graves; and the girl buried in the basement of an old house who may know how to get Matter’s attention.
Blue and Julie dig her up and she provides messy guidance to them. Sacrifices must be made and without a handbook for the recently turned vampire to guide them, things soon get out of hand and very bloody. Like all gods, Matter is aloof and bored with mortals who come calling.
Worth weaves a series of mixed memories recalling memories—are all these people really ghosts, haunting their actions over and over again?—and provides descriptions that carry depth beyond the showing.
Blue takes a towel off the rack. It’s gone through the washing machine so often that it’s frayed at the edges. The towel is so old that it looks dirty, even though it’s clean. He hugs it around himself and ignores the dust that sticks to his wet feet, the pebbles that lodge between his toes, as he pads back into his room. He lays back on his bed and closes his eyes. The sun is in a different place in the sky now and when Blue wakes from his nap, it will be even deeper into the horizon, signaling the late afternoon.
Blue is revealed through his actions: he is often oblivious; he is taciturn; he is not sexually interested in Julie; he is aimless except when it comes to extending his aimlessness by drinking blood. For him it would be cool to be a vampire. For Julie, she has a different reason but the same need.
Julie is one of many in Starling City who hold fantasies of immortality and power. Julie lives for the depth of midnight and craves the dampness of the dark basement bars she frequents. She seeks obscure clubs and strange faces in the hopes that the rumours she’s always heard about who and what lives in the shadows of Starling City are true. She works her wishes around the idea of escape: Escape from a life of work, the mundane realities of rent payments and errands and aging. Julie watches old Dracula movies as stories of hope. She doesn’t see them as fiction, but as veiled truths that promise an alternate route.
One wonders which Dracula Julie likes. Lee, Bela, Langella maybe? Both seek change but soon realize that being vampires is not at all what they thought it would be and, as Blue soon realizes, teeth are useless.
“Experimental” and “conceptual” are words used in the marketing for this novel but they tend to be apologetic sounding more than revealing. The Mouth is a Coven needs no apologies for its piercingly unnerving look into the lives of those not knowing what they are getting themselves into; a deeper and deeper plunge into the sanguine void for immortality as mortal weaknesses get in the way. Worth presents an engrossing narrative that leaves the vampire fluttering* in the background while focusing on the Renfields, those who truly yearn for the vampire mythology. There is no toothy gothic romance here, no glorified blood-soaked staking of hearts, and no Van Helsings. If you are looking for a refreshingly different take on vampiric horror, you should put the bite on this one.*
*To pun, to really pun, that must be glorious!