by Kit Reed
Cover Artist: Trevillion
Review by Katie Carmien
Tor Books Hardcover / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765390448
Date: 30 May 2017 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Nobody ever leaves the Ellis house. Lane thought she'd escaped, but then her husband absconded in the dead of night with all their money and valuables, leaving her and her thirteen-year-old son behind. With nowhere else to go, she and Theo return to the house in Jacksonville, still ruled by her tyrannical twin aunts, Iris and Rosemary, who are just delighted to have their "Little Elena" back under their thumb. As the sisters tighten their control over Lane, Theo receives nightly visits from a dark presence--Mormama, the long-dead grandmother who is just as trapped as they are. Mormama wants to warn him about something, but what? Meanwhile, Dell Duval, a man whose only clue to his missing memories is the address of the house, becomes enmeshed in the family's affairs. But while this house binds its women tight, it does not like boys, and something's got to give....
In keeping with that, the characterization is superb, even when it comes to Dell, who doesn't actually remember anything and therefore has very little to draw on in terms of history. Where Reed really shines is the voice; it's immediately obvious who's narrating, even without the names in the chapter heading. She makes the Ellis family itself a character, shaped and warped by Mormama's cruel daughter Little Manette, who is emblematic of everything that is toxic about the culture she grew up in.
However, the twisted family drama aspect is developed much better than the supernatural horror aspect. Mormama herself is a compelling presence, but the unnamed, undefined horror that possessed Little Manette and is still possessing the twins is left so vague as to feel almost unnecessary. Sometimes the scariest aspects of a horror novel are the ones that go unexplained, but the supposed evil presence doesn't have much of a presence, apart from the climax at the very end of the book, leading me to wonder why it was included at all when the cycle of emotional abuse was scary enough. Likewise, the conclusion of Dell's storyline felt a little underdeveloped, as if it was an afterthought. The book could have benefited from having fifty-odd more pages in order to expand on those parts of the story.
Mormama is a great read for fans of Southern Gothic, although perhaps not for those who like their ghosts and ghouls to be more active.