Gwendolyn Kiste’s Bram Stoker award-winning debut novel The Rust Maidens (published by Trepidatio Publishing) is a book, at its core, about life, stubbornness, blame, growth and acceptance, weaved in a such a wonderful way that it’s more than what it truly is: an amazing, engrossing weird fiction story.
Warning: Mild Spoilers
Phoebe has returned to Cleveland after nearly two decades to help her mother pack, before her dilapidated childhood home is demolished. The street she grew up on is not what it was when he left. Houses are being torn down, machines and workers destroying the past that she fought desperately to forget as though the wood they were made from were paper in a history book.
The people she knew are gone and moved or grown, still in-town, and are now filling the dreary roles their parents occupied twenty years ago, save for the steel mill workers — men couldn’t be those anymore, for the rusted mill still stood empty, abandoned, lifeless. But, it’s just the history Phoebe wants to forget, it’s not the old, rotted houses, or the friends she never had, or the adults who were convinced she was the reason for the mill’s closing. What she wanted to forget the most of all was the girls who had shed their flesh to reveal their true, rusted, glassy form, the Rust Maidens.
Like most readers, I’m certain, I found the adults in the story to be the most aggravating, because I, like I’m sure a lot of you have, have met people who speak and think and act they way they did. The way they blamed the Maidens from the beginning and believed that they were the cause of everyone’s problem, despite no inkling anywhere that the girls asked, wanted, or even desired what happened to them or the town itself. What person would want that anyway?
The adults reminded me of people who blame victims for things out of their control. It’s like when people accuse rape victims of wanting it by wearing certain clothes or talking a certain way. No one wants that to happen to them or anyone they know ever, and only an insane person would believe they would bring it upon themselves.
For someone or a group to say or believe such a thing is infuriating and repulsive, to say the least.
Another thing that The Rust Maidens reminded me of, on a more positive note, was the town. Like her, I grew up in a town centered around a steel mill. Husbands and fathers seemingly all worked there — up early to get there, late getting back — until they were fired or laid off. The town also boomed with life and money in the early 1900s, even given the nickname Little New York… Before the Great Depression and the recession.
Now, most of the storefronts are closed, their shopfronts opaque with dust and grime, and those still standing are only shells of their past self. The large factory buildings throughout downtown are decayed and dilapidated; some have been demolished to be replaced by nothing, others by parking lots. Some still stand, though they’re leaning, nearly tumbling over into the street or river below. The town mall is like an apartment building without occupants, a place that probably should’ve been torn down years ago but still stands because the post office and a pizza place still resides within.
Sorry, I’m rambling, let’s cut to the chase.
The Rust Maidens is a fantastic novel, and I highly suggest you purchasing it. I look forward to what Kiste has in store for us in the future.
Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books; and her debut novel, The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, LampLight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology, among others.