Cherie Priest's Maplecroft does a fine job of adding depth and narrative to the world of Lovecraftian horror. The characters are well developed and interesting, if not always likable. You are not reading this kind of story, however, for likable characters. These stories take seemingly normal people to the brink of madness, and then give them a nudge. Maplecroft is no different, slowly fracturing not only the characters themselves, but their relationships as well. The journey is deeper and a little more complex than Lovecraft's stories, but let's not kid ourselves, it doesn't take a lot to have a stronger plot than Lovecraft, much of the time. The allure of Lovecraft has always been the atmosphere, the world creation, and the descriptions of indescribable horror. Thankfully, the way the horror, the Weird (as well as an actual plot) are handled here proves that Priest is a worthy addition to world of Eldritch fiction. There are plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle call outs to Lovecraft's writings in Maplecroft, little in-jokes and references next to looming plot devices and famous settings. In fact, if you have not read and enjoyed Lovecraft's stories, then this book is not likely to capture your attention. It depends so much on the shared language of Lovecraft's style, tropes, and creations, that there's really no reason to read this if you aren't already involved with the Cthulhu franchise. Unanswered questions of plot and character don't really need to be answered if you are familiar with Lovecraft's mythos. This is clearly the start of a series, and it seems some things are left open to facilitate more books. I hope that Priest resists the urge to explain everything as the inevitable series unfolds. There were hints of that already, as actual science started to creep into this story as a way of explaining the unexplainable. Please keep your midichlorians to yourself, Ms. Priest.
Will this be the book to convert Lovecraft skeptics, or bring the uninitiated into the fold? Honestly, probably not. And there's really not enough "alternative history" provided by the Lizzie Borden angle to draw people in that way. But if you're a fan of stories about unimaginable horrors from the deep, Maplecroft is an intriguing, engaging and wonderfully creepy book.
(Also, while I am a huge fan of Lovecraft's creation, it is deeply disturbing what a bigot he was. So it gave me no small pleasure to have a well written, queer relationship at the heart of the book - as much as a romance has any place in Lovecraftian stories.)