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Fitcher's Brides (The Fairy Tale Series)

Fitcher's Brides (The Fairy Tale Series)

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by Gregory Frost

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The tale of Bluebeard, reenvisioned as a dark fable of faith and truth

1843 is the "last year of the world," according the Elias Fitcher, a charismatic preacher in the Finger Lakes district of New York State. He's established a utopian community on an estate outside the town of Jeckyll's Glen, where the faithful wait, work, and pray for the world to end.


The tale of Bluebeard, reenvisioned as a dark fable of faith and truth

1843 is the "last year of the world," according the Elias Fitcher, a charismatic preacher in the Finger Lakes district of New York State. He's established a utopian community on an estate outside the town of Jeckyll's Glen, where the faithful wait, work, and pray for the world to end.

Vernelia, Amy, and Catherine Charter are the three young townswomen whose father falls under the Reverend Fitcher's hypnotic sway. In their old house, where ghostly voices whisper from the walls, the girls are ruled by their stepmother, who is ruled in turn by the fiery preacher. Determined to spend Eternity as a married man, Fitcher casts his eye on Vernelia, and before much longer the two are wed. But living on the man's estate, separated from her family, Vern soon learns the extent of her husband's dark side. It's rumored that he's been married before, though what became of those wives she does not know. Perhaps the secret lies in the locked room at the very top of the house—the sin-gle room that the Reverend Fitcher has forbidden to her.

Inspired by the classic fairy tales "Bluebeard" and "The Fitcher Bird," this dark fantasy is set in New York State's "Burned-Over District," at its time of historic religious ferment. All three Charter sisters will play their part in the story of Fitcher's Utopia: a story of faith gone wrong, and evil coun-tered by one brave, true soul.

Editorial Reviews

Fitcher's Brides is Gregory Frost's spine-tingling contribution to editor Terri Windling's acclaimed Fairy Tale Series, a long-running project in which contemporary authors offer modern takes on the sometimes creepy classics that fascinated us as children. With Windling herself providing an introductory essay, Frost rewrites one of the darkest and bloodiest fairy tales, Bluebeard, setting it in a 19th century apocalyptic cult.

In the original story, Bluebeard gives his wife a set of house keys and tells her she may go anywhere except one room. The young wife, of course, cannot resist the allure of the forbidden.

In Frost's retelling, the Charter family- sisters Vernelia (Vern), Amy and Kate, and their father and stepmother-leave Boston in 1843 to follow Elais Fitcher, a preacher who has announced that the world is going to end. Fitcher is a highly charismatic preacher whose tours have brought thousands to Harbinger, the communal village his followers have built in upper New York State. One bridge connects Harbinger to the rest of the world, across Jekyll's Gorge. The sisters don't have time to miss Boston. Their stepmother gives them the tasks of putting their new house in order and working the tollgate to the bridge. The girls quickly discover that no one knows what happened to the last tenants of their house; even stranger, the ghost of a young Shaker man starts communicating with them by rapping on the walls.

When the Reverend Fitcher arrives unexpectedly one day, he brushes off Mr. Charter's apologies about his family's lack of preparedness, "Do not worry about the niceties. . . . They are all of the corporeal sphere, little pleasures and temptations and comforts to make us forget who and what we truly are." The girls are fascinated; Vern, the eldest, is quickly wooed and wed by Fitcher.

Fitcher's Brides is divided into three sections, each narrated by a different sister. One by one they are drawn into Harbinger, and Fitcher's clutches. The novel is suspenseful, spooky and hard to put down, especially as the sisters begin to uncover Fitcher's secrets, and as Fitcher's apocalypse approaches. Frost's finely detailed chiller will stay with the reader for a long time.

Publishers Weekly
In the latest addition to the Fairy Tale Series created by Terri Windling, fantasy author Frost (Tain; Lyrec) provides a fresh and highly readable spin on the classic Bluebeard tale, setting his version in New York's Finger Lakes district during the 1830s. Charismatic preacher Elias Fitcher, the Bluebeard figure, has set up a utopian community that prays and works while awaiting the end of the world prophesied for 1843. Into this hotbed of religious fervor comes the Charter family from the nearby town of Jeckyll's Glen. The father and stepmother succumb to Fitcher's mesmerizing preaching, but it is the three daughters-Vernelia, Amy and Catherine-who listen to household spirits and end up, each in turn, marrying Fitcher, then vanishing, except for Catherine, the youngest. In order to survive, Catherine must use her wits and the understanding passed on from her sisters. Exploring such adult themes as lust, masochism and desire, Frost neatly counterbalances the underlying threads of wifely curiosity and disobedience with the growing awareness of true evil in Fitcher, the elements that have made the fairy tale such a timeless story. Some readers may want to save Windling's introduction, which traces the historical legend through its roots in folklore to the narrative of Frenchman Charles Perrault, for last, in order to enjoy the novel for its own sake. Agent, Martha Millard. (Dec. 1) FYI: Windling is the co-editor with Ellen Datlow of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (Forecasts, July 29). Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This retelling of Bluebeard, set in the nineteenth century, finds Vern, Amy, and Kate's family swept up in the religious fervor of Reverend Elias Fitcher, who knows the date the world will end. Desperate for a faithful bride, Fitcher proposes to Vern, and a few days later they are married. Fitcher gives Vern a white marble egg to be carried with her always and a key ring that holds several keys, including one made of glass. Fitcher instructs Vern that she can go anywhere in the house except the room that is unlocked by the glass key. Kept isolated in Fitcher's house, Vern glimpses his hidden immorality. She disobeys her husband, unlocking every door until she opens the forbidden door in her desperation to learn Fitcher's secret. Vern's sisters are shocked when Fitcher announces that Vern has run away and that Amy is to be his next bride. The ritual begins again as Fitcher gives Amy the same wedding gifts. Frost's book is the latest addition to The Fairy Tale series created by Terri Windling. A lengthy introduction explains the origins of the Bluebeard tale. Bluebeard's connection to a nineteenth-century religious cult provides interesting metaphors about faith, both religious and marital. As with the original tale, this bloody and violent story contains sex, rape, whipping, and murder, making it best suited for older teens who are avid readers of fantasy and horror. The violence, dated jargon, religious dogma, and lengthy descriptions might deter some readers of this optional purchase for public libraries. VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002,Tor, 398p,
— Sarah Cofer
Frost retells a variant of "Bluebeard" in this entry in Terri Windling's Fairy Tale Series. Transplanting the tale from its European roots, Frost sets it just north of the Finger Lakes in central New York in 1843. Vernelia, Amy and Catherine (Kate) Carter arrive in the town of Jeckyll's Glen with their father and stepmother, both followers of the preacher Elias Fitcher. They believe Fitcher's prophecy that the world will come to end in 1843, and that only those who belong to his community called Harbinger will be spared. Mr. Carter is especially honored when Fitcher, declaring that he wishes to enter into Eternity as a married man, chooses Vernelia for a bride. But there's more to Fitcher and his community beneath the surface as Vernelia and subsequently her sisters are to learn. Frost builds his tale in carefully crafted layers, taking the time to find just the right details to create his convincing narrative. He slowly heightens the tension to an almost unbearable pitch; it is all one can do not to turn to the end to see what happens. The sisters are especially well developed characters with distinct personalities; still, as in any family, they also mesh together in a family bond. Fitcher is dashing, larger than life yet not without subtleties so that he both lures and lulls his brides to their doom. Not only will this title appeal to fans of the series, but also horror fans will appreciate the dark fantasy elements. (The Fairy Tale Series). KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Tor, 398p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Donna Scanlon
Library Journal
Swept up in the Rev. Elias Fitcher's apocalyptic predictions, the Charter family moves to upstate New York to await the final days as the gatekeepers of Fitcher's mansion, Harbinger House. When Fitcher chooses Vernelia as his bride, younger sisters Amy and Kate envy her happiness until events hint at a sinister purpose behind Fitcher's marriage and an even darker secret at the heart of Harbinger House. Frost's contribution to the popular "Fairy Tale" series, created and edited by Terry Windling, takes a unique approach to the horrific tale of Bluebeard, setting a seemingly cautionary tale about the dangers of curiosity against the messianic fervor of the mid-19th century. The author of The Pure Cold Light blends dark fantasy and social commentary in an intriguing tale that belongs in most libraries. Highly recommended. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Tor Fairy Tale Series
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.89(d)

Read an Excerpt

Fitcher's Brides

By Frost, Gregory

Tor Books

Copyright © 2003 Frost, Gregory
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780765301956

They climbed the gangplank to the steamboat, the three Charter sisters. As the eldest, Vernelia led them, followed by Amy, and finally Kate, the youngest at sixteen. The plank was wet but someone had thrown a layer of grist onto it so that feet could find purchase in the climb.
In the middle, halfway between land and lake and part of neither, Kate stopped and turned for a final look at the town of Geneva.
The wharf and streets teemed with people, more than the girls had ever seen gathered in a single place, even on the commons in Boston on the Fourth of July. Certainly all of the people below had not come down the Cayuga & Seneca Canal with the girls, their father and stepmother: No canal boat could have held so many. Even the steamboat that would carry them to the southern tip of Seneca Lake could not have held this many.
Spencer coats and shawl collars bumped up against buckskins, carriage dresses, cloaks, and bustles; polished beaver and stovepipe hats, gipsys, capotes, and lace cornettes flowed around bales and boxes, wagons and valises. The girls's journey across the wharf had been a clumsy, dodging stumble behind their father and stepmother; yet from the higher vantage there was a liquidity of purpose, as pockets of activity swirled like eddies in the bend of some greater human river. They had spent but a day in this town, knew nothing of its secrets, but Katewas compelled to unriddle the place in a final glance, and she might have done if Amy hadn't grabbed hold of her from above and hissed, "Kate, you're holding everyone up!"
Indeed, below her everyone was staring, and reluctantly she continued her climb.
Vern had already stepped off. Amy reached the top, then clumsily descended as if she might topple; but a hand caught her elbow and steadied her.
A young gentleman in a sharp blue coat stood on deck and, taking Kate's hand, helped her climb down on three boxes. "Mademoiselle," he said. "Welcome aboard the Fidelio, the finest steamboat in New York State." He couldn't have been much older than Vern--nineteen or twenty perhaps, and his French accent was not very believable. He had a little strip of a mustache on his lip that looked more like a line of ash than hair, but Kate was too polite to let her opinion show. She smiled demurely and thanked him for his assistance, calling him "Monsieur."
He bowed, the gallant knight, and answered, "Charity never faileth." Amy stood tugging at her green wool pelisse, but she looked up from beneath her bonnet and blushed as he spoke, as if the comment had been directed at her. Then she said, "Come now, sister," and took Kate by the elbow. The young man had already returned to his duty at the head of the gangplank.
It was the early spring of 1843, and much of New England was on the move. People headed west in droves, into new territories, some running to keep ahead of civilization, others intending to drag civilization into the wilderness. Still others had been swept up in one or more of the religious frenzies that had burned across New York State, one upon the other, for over half a century--one of which had dislocated the lives of the Charter sisters.
The two girls meandered across the deck, past bales of cotton and wool, and trunks and bags toted by servants, and families gathered around their belongings, and even at one point three men kneeling in an open passage and playing at dice. Amy averted her eyes but Kate watched shamelessly until she was pulled away. "It's not ladylike to stare that way," Amy instructed.
"Just wait till I tell Vern."
By then they had spotted their elder sister. She stood beside their father and stepmother just ahead, at the rail. Mr. Charter stared out across the lake at the crisp blue sky.
Vern saw her sisters and called out, "I swear I cannot turn my back a moment. If you two should ever get lost, what would I do?"
Lavinia, their stepmother, pushed forward like some blackgarbed ghoul, blocked Vern with her body, and spoke over the girl's words: "Young ladies do not mill about! How is it that from dockside to ship you could not keep up with your own kin?"
Vern stared daggers at the back of Lavinia's head but said nothing, leaving it to Amy to account for herself; but the middle sister had never been able to express what she felt to her stepmother, and barely to her older sister, who had acted as mother to the two younger girls for most of the past six years.
In the silence into which no one could insert a response, their father turned finally from the rail. His heavy-lidded eyes expressed a rooted weariness until his gaze settled upon his three girls, and then his face composed a smile, though the eyes somehow did not participate--eyes that had borne such iniquities, such calamities, as the girls had no appreciation for.
Mr. Charter had lost his savings in the financial panic of '37, and it was Lavinia's money which now, six years later, kept the family afloat. Lavinia was paying for their relocation to Jekyll's Glen from Boston. Lavinia had secured Mr. Charter's new position. When the girls married, it would be up to Lavinia to provide them with a dowry. They didn't believe she ever would, just as they had come to accept, in traveling here, that they were probably never going to marry. Nevertheless, the girls maintained a polite if chilly truce with this stepmother none of them had ever desired.
If Lavinia had made their father happy, they might have rejoiced, or at least accepted her. Instead, she had stolen him from them as surely as if she'd replaced him with a changeling. It was Lavinia who had led Mr. Charter to the tent of Elias Fitcher, where his brain began to burn with the twin lights of judgment and salvation. It was she who had brought the end of the world into their house. And it was she who, by manipulating their father, now brought their household to the end of the world.
* * *
The three girls leaned on the rail and watched the blue waters of the lake slide swiftly by. The shoreline moved slower at a distance. The smell of pine rode the blustery wind across Seneca Lake from the trees that hemmed it in all around. The hills above had been cleared for farming, and even now tiny figures were visible there, though the ground couldn't be much past spring thaw.
Beneath their feet the deck thrummed with the chugging engine, vibrating up their legs. Behind them various people strolled the boards, and snippets of conversations flitted by.
"A sick philosopher is incurable--"
"I hear'ed news of a gold strike a'way out west in Ohio."
"And will you be goin' there yourself?"
"He is among us even now, I tell you. Cast about you..."
"Landed gentry? Why, how can we be when we're on water here."
Sometimes they glanced back, if the voice was pleasant and sounded young enough that a handsome man might be at the end of it. Often they played a game of imagining who they would marry, how life would be, how many perfect children they would bear. "It has to be a tall man," Amy would say. "He must be clean, too, well groomed," Kate would throw in. Then they'd both look at Vern until she put in something of her own: "And we'll have six children, all girls." From there they would refine the description, change the number of children or detail the color of the phantom husband's hair, or else pick a city to live in and describe the house they would manage. They had played the game back home in Boston and to pass the time on the slow canal boats that had brought them across the state to Geneva, and the lake, and their advancing destination. Their fancies flew in the face of the very reason for their journey, which made the need to pretend all the more poignant.
Then abruptly as the Fidelio crossed the middle of the lake, the breeze blew colder, as if they had passed into some deep moist cavern of air. The two oldest girls stood in the partial shadow of the pilothouse and stack, and they drew their cloaks and shawls tighter around their shoulders. All three trembled for a moment, glanced at each other to see if the sensation was shared, and discovering that it was, traded their uneasiness. Then, as if each had heard her name called, they turned slowly about.
A man stood a few feet away, considering them. The girls squinted and shielded their eyes to see him, but he'd chosen to stand so that the morning sun seemed to ride upon his shoulder. Its rays flared across him, blinding them to all but his general shape.
He wore a long gray coat, and a white cravat. He was tall and rail-thin, and his hands at his sides curled and uncurled slowly. Beyond that the girls couldn't make out more than the shadows of his features.
While she shaded her eyes, Vern said, "Sir, is there something you wish of us?"
Vern's stance spoke more defiance than her tone, while Amy, true to her nature, blushed and glanced down at her feet. The two of them held hands in mutual support. The wind blew Kate's fair hair into her eyes. She tucked it back under her silk bonnet and continued to squint at the interloper.
"Oh, no, young miss, not the slightest." His voice was dark and smooth as syrup, delicious, as if Kate could taste it. "But you are all such beautiful creatures, aren't you, that one has to stop and take you in. I simply cannot help myself, as what man could? You must pardon me." He bowed, and this afforded Kate a momentary glimpse below the dazzle of the sun, of a long, severe face and blue eyes as cold as stars. He continued. "Pardon me as I have beheld the fruit of the garden and found it delectable. But is it wise for three such as yourselves to travel into this undiscovered country unchaperoned?"
"Our...father," Vern began, "is just across there."
The stranger did not turn his head to where she pointed, but asked, "You are none of you married, then? Are the men of this world so blind?"
Now Vern blushed.
"I will see you again, I hope. In this life surely before the next." He bowed slightly again, then turned and walked off.
They watched him weave through the crowd, and it wasn't until he was out of sight around the far side of the pilothouse that they found the sense to react. Amy pleaded, "Kate, let us move down so that we're in the sunlight with you. We're freezing." They shuffled along toward the nose of the boat, clinging to the rail as if they couldn't stand without it. The sunlight was reinvigorating.
"Who was he?" Kate asked.
"He was dreadfully forward," replied Amy, "whoever he was."
"I think I've never met anyone like that in my life," said Vern, and the tone of her comment--as if made in private--caused her sisters to glance her way in alarm, for she sounded as if she had enjoyed him. She laughed when she saw their looks. "You don't know, my dears, but you will one day, what it is that we women need in men."
Amy stood dumb, uncomprehending.
Kate shook her head, dismissing the avowal in a gesture. She focused her attention across the deck, after the stranger.
She had acted her eldest sister's confidante many times--a role that Amy was ill-equipped to handle--and she was fully informed of Vern's notions of womanhood, of sundry insubstantial claims, but mostly of Vern's one great indiscretion, after which the pretense of sagacity had given way to blind panic until, after some delay, Vern's monthly flow had arrived. She loved her eldest sister dearly, but found the wisdom dispensed on the strength of one hasty and ill-chosen congress most absurd. Who was she acting the queen for then--Amy? Still, there had been about the stranger something beguiling, Kate admitted. His voice had shaken her as well.
She determined that she wanted a better look at him. She excused herself then and headed for the pilothouse. Vern called after her but Kate didn't acknowledge that she heard. She pushed past men and women in their travel clothes, saw her stepmother look up and nearly catch her eye, and ducked her head and drove quickly through the crush, into pockets of odor, of bodies that had traveled long in the same clothes, of cigars, of pine tar, of water-soaked wood, past the moist spray and hiss of the turning wheel. She came up for air far enough away that Lavinia would not see her, then strolled ahead with purpose. She could not find him. Then, as she approached the back of the pilothouse and stepped through a gap between two crates, she brushed up against the young man who had helped her onto the boat deck.
He regarded her with shy amusement, head turned slightly down as if he knew he'd been forward earlier and now must account for himself. But Kate didn't care about that. "You--why, you helped everyone on board today, did you not?"
It certainly wasn't the question he'd expected, or perhaps hoped for, and he hesitated a moment before answering almost in defense, "It's my job."
"No, I mean--there's a man on board here who has accosted my sisters and myself, but now I can't find him."
"Oh, well," he said, and puffed up, "I am the person you need. I know 'em all."
"You've lost your French," she replied, a small tease, then went on to describe the man in gray.
She'd hardly begun when the young steward said, "Why, I know him, sure. He's over this a'way." He led her through the throng. "There you go," he said, and pointed.
The man stood with one foot up on the lower rail, at the stern of the boat, the tail of his coat hanging straight to his knee, and as if sensing their interest glanced over his shoulder at them. He was not so tall nor as thin, and sported a short red beard.
"Ma'am?" he asked, and the voice was one she'd never heard.
"No," she told her guide, "that isn't he. This man was much taller, thin as a sapling, and his eyes..." She could not find words to describe them. "He'd a wide white cravat at his throat, like a preacher might."
"Oh." He scratched his head, then pushed back his cap. "No, I surely don't recollect such a gentleman, and the way you set him, I think I surely would."
"I'm sorry. But, that is, I might not have seen everyone who boarded?" He smiled sheepishly. "I did sort of concentrate my efforts on you ladies."
She couldn't help but laugh. He was very sweet. "Thank you for your kindness, sir," she told him, and he tipped his cap and returned, fairly glowing, to his work.
Kate circled the rest of the way around the pilothouse. She scanned this way and that but saw no one resembling her stranger, and by the time she reached her sisters again she had concluded in some ineffable way that the man in gray had never been among them at all.
Copyright 2002 by Gregory Frost


Excerpted from Fitcher's Brides by Frost, Gregory Copyright © 2003 by Frost, Gregory. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Gregory Frost is the author of several well-received novels, including the fantasies Tain, Renscela, and Lyrec, and the SF novel The Pure Cold Light. He lives near Philadelphia.

Series creator Terri Windling has been a champion of adult fairy-tale fiction for over two decades, editing such anthologies as The Armless Maiden and the Snow White, Blood Red series with Ellen Datlow.

Series artist Thomas Canty has worked on many fairy-tale collaborations with Windling, in-cluding all the volumes of this series.

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