Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth has (of course) been sitting on my shelf forever. The virtual one, at least. Let‘s call it an e-reader-lurker. I started it when heading out for a vacation, because for me that‘s always a good opportunity to tackle some books that have been on my radar for a longer time. And in this case I think my vacation mood made me overlook a lot of things that would have had me bailing otherwise. This is a big “I liked it, and yet…“
The book is told in two alternating timelines. One is set in 1902, when two students of the Brookhants boarding school for girls share not only a passion for the memoirs of young writer Mary MacLane, but also for each other. Named after a quote from Mary‘s book, they form the “Plain Bad Heroine Society“. They are found dead in the orchard of the school, killed by a swarm of yellow jackets. More deaths will follow them.
The other timeline is set in the present day. Author Merritt Emmons has written a book about the events of 1902, and a horror movie adaptation is in the works. After a rather bumpy start, she forms a bond with actresses Harper Harper and Audrey Wells. But during production, talk about the curse of Brookhants gets louder and louder, and in the end it gets hard for them to distinguish truth from rumor and show effects.
Let‘s start with the positive things. The writing style was quirky and engaging, and I liked the omniscient narrator a lot. The use of footnotes made everything feel quite plausible. When starting it, I had the giddy feeling that I’d probably like it a lot. Introducing the different timelines had a lot of potential, and yet…
And yet I don‘t think the book delivered on that potential. I didn‘t notice it on my e-reader at first, but in print this book has over 600 pages. It is really long, yet the end felt rushed and didn‘t tie everything together in a satisfying way. The plot(s) moved along very slow, so it was hard to get a sense of building tension. Also, what little there was, just fizzled out at the end.
While it is classified as horror, it didn‘t really feel like it. Again, probably because it didn‘t grab me that much with its slow speed. There are a few gross scenes, and if you are already a bit nervous around wasps you may be more so after it.