Review: Cicadas Sing of Summer Graves - Quinn Connor
Genre: Magical Realism, horror Published: Sourcebooks Landmark, May 30th 2023 My Rating: 3/5 stars
"The dead have a tight grip on this place. Did they even know their world was gone and that they were nothing more than the brutal afterimage left behind after a flashing light?"
Cicadas Sing of Summer Graves is a difficult book for me to review. For one, because it doesn’t fit neatly into a single distinct genre (I’d say it’s magical realism/contemporary with a bit of horror). Also because I desperately wanted to love this book more than I did. With its stunning, descriptive writing and so many individual elements and ideas that I loved, this was a lock to be a new personal favourite. And right up until the final page I was rooting, even looking for it to be just that. Unfortunately, although the concept was a 10/10, but the execution failed to climb above a 6/10.
Years ago, yellow fever gripped the small lakeside town of Prosper, Arkansas. At the height of that summer swelter, in the wake of an unexpected storm, the dam failed and the valley flooded—drowning the town and everyone trapped inside.
Now, decades later, when a mysterious locked box is pulled from the depths of the lake, three descendants of that long-ago tragedy are hurled into another feverish summer. Cassie: the reclusive sole witness to an impossible horror no one believes. Lark: a wide-eyed dreamer haunted by bizarre visions. June: caught between longing for a fresh start and bearing witness to the ghosts of the past. Bound together, all three must contend with their home’s complex history—and with the ruins of the town lost far beneath the troubled water.
What I loved:
First things first: the atmosphere, the imagery and the sense of setting and place are phenomenal. Heat swelters of these pages and this entire read feels like an oppressively clammy July-day with the thickness of a thunderstorm weighing down the air. The authors have a beautifully descriptive narrative voice and a keen eye for striking scenes and setting. From a houseboat filled with glaring telescope lenses hoarded by a troubled individual, to the silhouettes of strange figures wading through reddish lake-waters; I had genuine chills from some of the pictures they painted.
Additionally, the book is packed to the brim with phenomenal ideas for layered storytelling, and important themes. Each of our three protagonists, as well as some of the major side-character, each have their own (family-)history, their own themes, and even their own motifs sprinkled through the story. They also all have a historical counterpart in Old prosper, into which the authors clearly put a lot of research. Reading the foreword, you find out the story was inspired by the real Arkansas town of Bucksville, that flooded after a dam-break and an epidemic of yellow-fever. The authors specifically mention the important themes of racial- and class inequality that meant some communities were hit harder than others by the tragedy that took place. All of this was interesting, and clearly, so felt the authors. Unfortunately, trying to put it all into a single 400 page novel made for a product that is wide as a lake but deep as a puddle.
What I didn’t like:
Simply stated: this book was too ambitious with the amount of themes, motifs, story-lines and threads it had going on. Unable to explore them all, these ideas end up hanging in the air; unresolved and heavy like the muggy summer heat we started this review with. In my opinion, this book would’ve been better had some of the ideas been left on the cutting room floor. Sometimes less is more, and scratching can create room for more depth and a less disjointed narrative.
With ideas and a stunning talent for language and writing, I cannot wait to see what this author duo produces in the future, and I will absolutely read whatever they publish next. For Cicadas, I’m left with an enjoyable read, but also the slight aftertaste of “what could’ve been”.
Many thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinion are my own.
You can find this book here on Goodreads. Available for purchase from May 30th 2023.