From the Publisher
“Cherie Priest kicks ass! Four and Twenty Blackbirds is lush, rich, intense, and as dark and dangerous as a gator-ridden swamp.” Maggie Shayne, New York Times bestselling author of Blue Twilight
“Fine writing, humor, thrills, real scares, the touch of the occult . . . had me from the first page. I read straight through. An absolutely wonderful debut, and a book not to be missed.” Heather Graham, New York Times bestselling author of Haunted, on Four and Twenty Blackbirds
“Cherie Priest has created a chilling page-turner in her debut novel. Her voice is rich, earthy, soulful, and deliciously southern as she weaves a disturbing yarn like a master! Awesome-gives you goosebumps!” L.A. Banks, author of Minion and The Vampire Huntress Legend Series, on Four and Twenty Blackbirds
“Spooky and engrossing, this revenge play is as sticky as a salmagundi made from blood and swamp dirt. Priest can write scenes that are jump-out-of-your-skin scary. This is the first installment in what I can only hope will be a long and terrifying friendship.” Cory Doctorow, author of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, on Four and Twenty Blackbirds
“Wonderful. Enchanting. Amazing and original fiction that will satisfy that buttery Southern taste, as well as that biting aftertaste of the dark side. I loved it.” Joe R. Lansdale, Stoker- and Edgar-winning author of The Bottoms, on Four and Twenty Blackbirds
“Breathlessly readable, palpably atmospheric and compellingly suspenseful, Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a considerable debut. It's written with great control and fluency, and it looks like the start of quite a career.” Ramsey Campbell, World Horror Grand Master
“Cherie Priest has mastered the art of braiding atmosphere, suspense and metaphysics into a resonant ghost story that offers even more than what you hope for.” Katherine Ramsland, bestselling author of GHOST: Investigating the Other Side, on Four and Twenty Blackbirds
“Southern Gothic at its best. An absorbing mystery told with humour and bite.” Kelley Armstrong, author of Industrial Magic and the Otherworld series, on Four and Twenty Blackbirds
“Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a rare bird, the novel you wish you'd written yourself--excellent!” C.J. Henderson, author of The Things That Are Not There
“Four and Twenty Blackbirds is an extraordinary first novel-heck, it's an extraordinary novel, period. It's a ghost story and a voodoo mystery-and like any good Southern Gothic, it has a healthy obsession with race and inbreeding. But Blackbirds is more than the sum of its traditional parts. Cherie Priest's writing, while decidedly capable of giving you the creeps, is infused with a refreshing spunkiness and interesting, believable characters . . . . Fans of supernatural horror should keep an eye on Cherie Priest!” SciFiDimensions.com
"Had me from the first page. I read straight through. An absolutely wonderful debut, and a book not to be missed."
"Cherie [Priest's] voice is rich, earthy, soulful, and deliciously southern as she weaves a disturbing yarn like a master! Awesome!"
"Cherie Priest has mastered the art of braiding atmosphere, suspense and metaphysics into a resonant ghost story."
"This is the first installment in what I can only hope will be a long and terrifying friendship."
"Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a rare bird, the novel you wish you'd written yourself--excellent!"
Joe R. Lansdale
"Wonderful. Enchanting. Amazing . . . will satisfy that buttery Southern taste, as well as that biting aftertaste of the dark side."
"Southern Gothic at its best. An absorbing mystery told with humour and bite."
"Cherie Priest kicks ass! Four and Twenty Blackbirds is lush, rich, intense, and as dark and dangerous as a gator-ridden swamp."
"Breathlessly readable, palpably atmospheric and compellingly suspenseful, Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a considerable debut."
"Four and Twenty Blackbirds is an extraordinary first novel--heck, it's an extraordinary novel, period.... keep an eye on Cherie Priest!"
The Barnes & Noble Review
Haunting. Mesmerizing. Unforgettable. Adjectives cannot adequately describe the singular narrative brilliance of Cherie Priest's debut novel.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds -- a contemporary ghost story with elements of southern gothic, supernatural mystery, and dark fantasy -- follows an orphaned girl's harrowing journey into adulthood and her desperate quest to find out who she really is. Growing up with her aunt and uncle in the mountains of Tennessee, Eden Moore is never truly alone. The “mixed race” girl is infrequently visited by a trio of ghosts, three long-dead sisters who counsel and protect her. But no one can guard Eden from a lunatic who believes she is the next coming of her great-grandfather, an infamous African sorcerer whose followers have somehow found a way to resurrect his spirit. When the life of Eden's beloved aunt is endangered, she embarks on a journey to uncover the roots of her decidedly inbred family tree. From the ruins of a Tennessee sanitarium where her mother died to the halls of a decrepit Georgia mansion to the gator-infested swamps of southern Florida, Eden's investigation leads her to the terrible truth…
Priest's Four and Twenty Blackbirds is one of those exceedingly rare literary gems that will not only engage and challenge readers on a cerebral level but will also masterfully manipulate their emotions. Lyrical, poignant, and brilliantly understated, Priest's debut novel is a genre-transcendent storytelling tour de force. Fans of writers like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub will absolutely fall in love with this spellbinding novel -- and with Cherie Priest, who is undeniably one of the most exciting new authors to come along in years. Paul Goat Allen
The classic Southern gothic gets an edgy modern makeover in Priest's debut novel about a young woman's investigation into the truth of her origins. What Eden Moore digs up in the roots of her diseased family tree takes her across the South, from the ruins of the Pine Breeze sanitarium in Tennessee to a corpse-filled swamp in Florida, and back in time to the Civil War, when the taint in her family bloodline sets in motion events building only now to a supernatural crescendo. Priest adds little new to the gothic canon, but makes neo-goth chick Eden spunky enough to deal with a variety of cliche menaces a scheming family matriarch, a brooding Poe-esque mansion and a genealogy greatly confused with inbreeding that would have sent the genre's traditional wilting violets into hysterics. Eden is a heroine for the aging Buffy crowd, and her adventures will play best to postadolescent horror fans. Agent, Lantz Powell. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Blackbirds is a modern version of the Southern Gothic novel, with at least four and twenty standard horror elements: ghosts, scary mansions, knife-wielding heroine, maniacal cousins, inbreeding, crazy old women, insane asylums and so on. Traveling from hilltops in Tennessee to swamps in Florida, Eden Moore, the young heroine, hits the highpoints of the horror genre as she goes. Eden is the daughter of a woman put in an insane asylum to hide the fact that she is pregnant. She is raised by her aunt and her aunt's husband and by three ghosts who talk to her throughout her childhood. As she becomes a woman, she sets out to uncover her past for herself. The plot is a little intense for the prepubescent reader, but great for the high school student familiar with Poe and Hawthorne. The echoes of the classics, blended with the modern edgy heroine who has no maiden-in-distress characteristics, make an interesting contrast for the reader who knows the classics of American literature. The ending is a little too neat and therapeutically modern, especially after all the drama of the previous events, but it's a good story nonetheless. KLIATT Codes: SA--Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Tor, 285p., Ages 15 to adult.
Girl in search of her true parents unearths disquieting family murders in a murky horror debut set in the mountains of Tennessee. Of uncertain parentage, with a racial makeup somewhere between black and white (her teenaged mother died in childbirth while incarcerated in Pine Breeze mental asylum), Eden has a gift for divination. While growing up with Aunt Lulu and Uncle Dave on Signal Mountain, she gets in trouble at school and in town because of her psychic visions. She sees three sisters pursued and killed by their father, Avery, and comes to identify herself with Miabella, who was Avery's youngest, favored daughter. Meanwhile, in the world of the living, young Eden is stalked by her delusional cousin Malachi Dufresne. His mother, Tatie Eliza, is steeped in the cult of a certain 19th-century practitioner of black magic, John Gray, who was eventually killed by priests. It turns out that Avery was also a follower of Gray, and someone has tapped into Avery's destructive power. Unless Eden can find an elusive book of spells, Gray's followers will emerge again from obscurity. With the help of Harry, a priest turned servant who knows the whole story of Eden's ancestry, Eden takes off on a road trip. In Highlands Hammock State Park she stumbles onto a coven of cultists who are still trying to raise John Gray. Kidnapped at the swamp site by misguided Malachi, who believes she's on the dark side, Eden finally manages to conjure angry Avery and attempts to restore peace to the restless ghosts. Wildly contrived and oddly chilly, despite all the ranting and raving.
Read an Excerpt
"Draw me a picture of someplace you've been that you liked very much," Mrs. Patterson suggested, pronouncing each word with the firm, specific articulation peculiar to those who work with children. "It can be anyplace at all-an amusement park, a playground, a tree house or your bedroom. Maybe you went on vacation once and visited the beach. You could draw the ocean with seagulls and shells. Or maybe you went camping on the mountain. You might have gone down to the waterfall for a picnic, or up to Sunset Rock. Pick a place special to you, and when you're finished, we'll put your pictures up on the bulletin board in the hallway."
I cringed, staring down at the blank sheet of coarse cream paper. Before me was a plastic tub filled with fat, fruit-scented markers, ripe for the choosing. While the other kids at my table dove into a frenzy of scribbles I stalled for time, popping the lid off each color and sniffing for inspiration.
Red is for cherries. Purple is for grape. Green is for . . . I didn't recognize the scent.
But green is for . . . yes, green is for water.
I jammed the lid onto the back of the marker and began to scrawl a wide pool across the bottom half of the sheet. Green is for water. And for alligators. I picked up the yellow marker (supposed to be lemons, but smelled like detergent) and drew two periscope eyeballs poking up through the swirls. Then I outlined them with black (licorice) and drew a long snout with two bumps for nostrils.
Brown. Brown was chocolate.
I sketched tall, thin trees that reached up past the top of the page. And snakes. Brown is for snakes. Wrapped around one trunk I placed a spiraled serpent with a wide open mouth. I gave him a strawberry pink tongue shaped like a "Y".
But I was missing something. I chewed on my thumbnail and tapped the brown pen. A house. A brown house set on blocks for when the water rose too high, with a cherry red canoe tied to the front porch just in case. A brown chocolate house, made of flat boards with a sloping gray roof that let the fresh rain water run into a barrel. Gray is for . . . A gray roof.
And gray is for . . .
Gray is for . . .
Mrs. Patterson's hands fluttered into my vision. "My goodness, Eden. What a vivid picture you've made! Now where is this?"
"Gray is for ghosts!" I blurted out.
For a moment the other kids were quiet, but then a few began to giggle. The giggle traveled halfway around the room, then died of shame under our teacher's withering frown.
"Class," she addressed it as a warning. "Eden has drawn us a very good green swamp with alligators and snakes, and a house."
I sank down into my chair and repeated myself more softly. "And gray is for ghosts, Mrs. Patterson. I haven't put the ghosts in yet."
Mrs. Patterson understood. Small and frail, she was a shriveled and sweet black woman who'd emerged from retirement to figurehead my kindergarten class. She made cookies every night before she went to bed because she knew some of her kids didn't get any breakfast before school. She crocheted all twenty of us little sweaters during the winter and took us to the city pool for free all summer. She was simply kind, but all the same, she terrified me.
Not on purpose, of course. She wouldn't have scared me deliberately, but whenever I saw her tiny, wrinkled hands I thought of dead birds; and every time she breezed by my desk they were flapping their bony, naked wings.
I think my fear hurt her feelings, or perhaps she thought something terrible was going on at home for me to be so silent and frightened all the time; but all was normal in our household so far as normal goes. I was raised by my Aunt Louise and Uncle David. They had no children of their own, so it was just me and that was just fine.
Everything was fairly ordinary until I started school. Until then I'd never had much interest in doodling, finger-painting or any of the other sloppy activities of early childhood, but once I entered the hallowed halls of elementary school, people handed me crayons and watercolors at every turn. Suddenly there was construction paper, glitter glue, popsicle sticks, yarn and paste. We used ink to make thumbprint caterpillars and paper bags to make cartoon hand-puppets. We had sidewalk chalk to make Van Goghesque night scenes on black paper or hopscotch squares on the four-square courts outside. Our educators wanted us to expand our brains, to think outside the box-to look inside our gray-matter nooks and bring forth art. Most of the time, it was fun.
So although I was deathly afraid of Mrs. Patterson and her skinny, swift-moving hands, I sought her approval, and I wanted to fit in. I crafted the standard benign animals out of modeling clay and rainbow scenery from felts, and I usually got gold foil star stickers or smiley faces on these uniform endeavors. But anytime we had free-thought art projects things got iffy. Any time I had to delve too deep into my imagination I found myself confused and unnerved. The "someplace special" project was no exception.
When I was finally done, Mrs. Patterson dutifully tacked it up on our bulletin board with the rest, though she discretely sent it to the lower left corner.
When the classroom emptied for gym or for recess, I don't remember which, I lingered behind and stared at my creation with a morbid intrigue. My elderly teacher sent the class ahead with one of her colleagues and she stayed behind, letting the door quietly close us into privacy.
"Who are they?" she asked. "Who are the three gray ghosts looking through the trees? You didn't give them any faces."
I concentrated-tried hard to focus. I could hear their voices, sing-song and sad, but sometimes fierce. Sometimes demanding. Always close.
"Do you know who they are?" she asked again, the same non-threatening tone she always used on me, like I was a stray cat on the verge of fleeing before she could slip me some cream.
"They're . . . " the memory flitted fast, and was gone. "They're sisters who died. He killed them."
"That's very sad."
"No, it's very angry-they're angry he did that to them. They loved him and he killed them." The words fell across my lips, dropping down into a pile at my feet and accumulating there before I could make sense of them. "Now they stay in the swamp, because he cut them up and threw them into the water for the 'gators and the birds to pick apart. And their blood turned the green water black, but I didn't do that part because I don't like licorice."
"You don't like . . . oh. I see. The markers."
"Yes. The markers." My whisper trailed away to something less audible, and I realized how foolish I sounded. With a flash of paranoia I turned to her and almost took one of her scary bird hands, then changed my mind at the last moment and folded mine together, praying to her instead. "But you can't say anything to anyone. If you do, they'll send me to the pine trees, like they sent my mother, and you won't let them do that to me, will you, Mrs. Patterson?"
"No, Eden," she assured me after a perplexed pause. A quick light brightened her face for a moment but then her forehead wrinkled again. "No one's going to send you to the pine trees. No one's going to send you away."
Mrs. Patterson tried hard to understand, but how could she have known? I didn't know either, back then, that you're not supposed to remember those things at all, those traces of the lives you've had before; but I've carried them with me as long as I can recall. Sometimes they rise out to meet me in subtle ways-in the gentle fears and convictions that old ghosts bring when they haunt you from the inside out. But sometimes they manifest in visions, in nightmares, or in kindergarten art projects.
I went back to drawing bubble-gum butterflies and marshmallow puppies. Mrs. Patterson invited the social services people to come and observe me, but I put on a good show. I could give them what they wanted. Eventually she gave up trying to corner me and seemed to accept the undercurrent of madness that ran beneath my crayon creations.
But once in awhile the three ghost women would cry, and I'd find myself inserting their six searching eyes into plastic-wrap windows, or cotton ball clouds, or watercolor trees.
I wanted to make sure they could see me.