Review: Leech - Hiron Ennes
Genre: Horror, Sci-fi/Speculative Fiction
Published: Tor, September 2022
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
"Despite logical input from a conscious mind, a body fears what it fears.”
This Halloween-season I felt myself a bit burned out on the same old horror-tropes and was in the market for something completely original. Boy, did Ennes deliver that! Her debut novel brings an brilliantly intelligent and original piece of speculative horror like you’ve never read before. If it weren’t for the ending, this would’ve been an easy 5-star.
There’s little I can say about the plot of Leech without giving too much away, as much of the joy of this book is putting the puzzle-pieces together for yourself. In a postapocalyptic frozen world, the baron's personal physician dies a horrible death, seemingly by his own hand. The new replacement doctor has one mystery to solve: how the Institute lost track of one of its many bodies. Soon they find themselves up to a foe they didn't expect: a parasite even more devious and cunning than themselves.
What I loved:
Leech plunges us into a world that feels inhospitable, yet intriguing from the get-go. Although our story starts in the relatively confined setting of the Chateau, it’s apparent that a larger world, quite unlike our own, exists outside. This worlds lore isn’t spoon-fed to you. Instead, Ennes trusts the readers intelligence to piece it together from glimpses and fragments of its hostility that we come by naturally through the unfolding of the plot. I was on edge and engaged, actively trying to solve the mystery alongside the protagonist.
Thematically, this book couldn’t have been more up my alley. Ennes is a medical student, and the themes she discusses in the book are very closely linked to the medical field. To me, as an MD, I deal with many of these dilemmas on a daily basis and I loved seeing them explored in a sci-fi-horror-setting like this. From ethical questions on patient-care and bodily autonomy(What should be the limits of medical involvement? How far should we go in extending life? Who does and who doesn’t have access to healthcare and what does that mean for their quality of life?), to the toll this line of work takes on the professional themselves. Especially that latter isn’t something I’ve seen discussed before all too often. The use of a particular sci-fi element, as well as the way the “Leeches” are treated is an interesting vessel to explore the way us doctors see ourselves and are seen by others. “Profession above self/individuality” is a commonly pushed motto, which Ennes explores wonderfully.
What I didn’t love:
The lack of exposition and explanation is one of the novels strength, but also comes at the risk of making it at times confusing. You are held responsible for keeping up, which risks some readers tapping out when the story becomes too outlandish. Although I didn’t have an issue with that, I did feel let down by the ending. A more indepth description, including spoilers can be found in my Goodreads-review, behind the spoiler-tag. All I can say here is: there’s an element that makes the story unique, that is lost along the way. It’s done purposefully so, but it takes away from the novels strongest sides and makes the ending weaker in return. As it stands, it’s a fantastic 4-star book, but with a different ending, this could’ve been an all-time favourite.
I can see this being a marmite-book that you either love or hate, but if you enjoy science-inspired, weird fiction with themes of medical horror, bodily autonomy and individuality, I highly recommend you give it a chance.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.