Shields (The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac) repurposes the Greek myth of Cassandra in this alluring, phantasmagoric story of a clairvoyant secretary working at a secret research facility during WWII. Eighteen-year-old Mildred Groves frequently has strange, dark dreams and visions that she can’t escape. After running away from her home in rural Washington, she joins the Women’s Army Corps and applies for a job at the mysterious Hanford research facility on the Columbia River. Hanford was established to support the war effort, but no one understands what is being made in the large compound. Mildred cautiously tries to keep her head down, making friends and avoiding unwanted attention from male colleagues. However, she’s prone to bouts of sleepwalking and having disturbing visions of skeletons and corpses, which become more ominous when she overhears snippets of information revealing that the facility is processing plutonium for the atomic bomb. Shields incorporates a strong feminist undercurrent, and the constant objectification of and casual workplace violence against the women of Hanford often makes for uncomfortable reading. Unfortunately, narrative suspense will be lessened for readers with basic knowledge of WWII history or the Cassandra myth. There is little redemption in Mildred’s story, a conclusion foreshadowed from the start. With a plucky, charismatic narrator and vivid scenes incorporating the history of a real WWII facility, Shield’s novel digs into the destructive arrogance of war. (Feb.)
"Quirky, funny, dark. Not like anything else." Margaret Atwood
"It’s difficult to imagine a myth riper for harvest than that of Cassandra, the tragic Greek figure who uttered prophecies no one believed. She was, to begin with, a woman, and that is what Sharma Shields, in her biting second novel, sinks her sharp teeth into the deepest. . . .The dream scenes. . . .provide necessary, sickening contrast to the spit-and-polish patriotism via talking coyotes, deformed fetuses and other grotesqueries. . . .But nothing is more troubling or more brilliant than Mildred’s horrifying reaction to a trauma that implicates all of us so forcefully that it’s easy to believe Shields is the one blessed or cursed with visions of impending ruin." Daniel Kraus, The New York Times Book Review
"Provocative, beautifully rendered...With this novel, Shields has crafted a clever, fierce parable about the blindness of those entranced by the powers of violencethat those people are mostly men should come as little surprise." Nylon, Best Books of February
"Balancing thorough research and mythic lyricism, [The Cassandra] is a timely warning of what happens when warnings go unheeded." The Millions "Most-Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2019 Book Preview"
"[A] galvanizing variation on the ancient Greek tale of a seer doomed always to be right, yet never to be believed. Shields . . . offers satirically comedic scenes and satisfyingly venomous takedowns of the patriarchy, welcome flashes of light in this otherwise harrowing dive into the darkest depths of hubris and apocalyptic destruction. A uniquely audacious approach to the nuclear nightmare." Booklist (starred review)
"Lyrical. . . Well-researched. . . .Shields' reworking of the classic mythabout a young woman whose warnings about a future she alone can see are ignoredis filled with grotesque and violent images and episodes of keening sorrow. Shields delivers what her heroine cannot: a warning, impossible to ignore, about the costs of blind adherence to ideology." Kirkus
"[An] alluring, phantasmagoric story. . . .With a plucky, charismatic narrator and vivid scenes incorporating the history of a real WWII facility, Shield’s novel digs into the destructive arrogance of war." Publishers Weekly
"The Cassandra is a magnificent exploration of the consequencesboth incredible and devastatingof human ingenuity and human intuition. This novel is full of magic and hope, even while it brings up to the light some of our darkest past." Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and Awayland
"The Cassandra is a fantastic achievement of unflinching honesty, psychic power, and sustained empathy. Sharma Shields’s fearless reckoning with American might at the beginning of the nuclear age closes the distance between victor and victim, historical detail and mythic truth. This fevered novel’s seer will infect you with her visions, but her moral candor will work on you long after the dream is over." Smith Henderson, author of Fourth of July Creek
"The Cassandra feels powerfullychillinglyrelevant to our own political moment, even as it unfolds against the bleak splendor of the 1940s American West. It’s a harrowing story, beautifully told, of patriarchy and violence intertwining to make a combustible monster; and of the woman who speaks the truth about this monster, only to be dismissed as unhinged." Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
"A stunning fable of hubris, complicity, and nuclear genesis, set against the raw backdrop of the wartime northwest. Sharma Shields illuminates the grotesquerie of humanity’s progress and offers up an elegy for a damned world." Megan Kruse, author of Call Me Home
"Sharma Shields is one of our finest literary fabulists and The Cassandra is further proof – a brilliantly tightening knot of dread, a phantasmagoria of nightmares and daytime horrors that glows with powerful insights about the nation’s reckless nuclear history and its corrosive chauvinism." Shawn Vestal, author of Godforsaken Idaho
Myths and monsters, human and otherwise, populate Shields' (The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac, 2015, etc.) allegory about the scarifying effects of unheeded warnings.
Washington State in the 1940s. Awkward, unpopular, and misunderstood, Mildred Groves seeks escape from a stifling home in a tiny town. Moving from frying pan into unforeseen fire, she takes a job on a project at the top-secret Hanford Research Center as secretary to a high-level scientist. The deadly potential of the project gradually becomes apparent to Mildred, and she faces social challenges far more complex than those she encountered in her earlier constrained life. Mildred's gift (or curse)—she can episodically see visions of the future—made her a pariah in her family and community and is not welcomed, or understood, by her new companions at Hanford. The uncalculated risks she takes as she unconsciously heeds the mythic creatures encountered during her visionary episodes result in harms almost too horrible to contemplate. Shields' often lyrical account of Mildred's travails provides not only a well-researched sense of place and time, but also a peek at the gung-ho attitudes which made the Manhattan project possible. The collateral damage unleashed by misogyny and unbridled nationalism is hard to calculate and presents in ways which take an immediate toll on Mildred and, she foresees, on the land and people seeking victory via the awful weapon being developed at Hanford. Rooted in the geography and culture of the communities Hanford displaced, Shields' reworking of the classic myth—about a young woman whose warnings about a future she alone can see are ignored—is filled with grotesque and violent images and episodes of keening sorrow.
Shields delivers what her heroine cannot: a warning, impossible to ignore, about the costs of blind adherence to ideology.