In an isolated chateau, as far north as north goes, the baron’s doctor has died. The doctor’s replacement has a mystery to solve: discovering how the Institute lost track of one of its many bodies.
For hundreds of years the Interprovincial Medical Institute has grown by taking root in young minds and shaping them into doctors, replacing every human practitioner of medicine. The Institute is here to help humanity, to cure and to cut, to cradle and protect the species from the apocalyptic horrors their ancestors unleashed.
In the frozen north, the Institute’s body will discover a competitor for its rung at the top of the evolutionary ladder. A parasite is spreading through the baron’s castle, already a dark pit of secrets, lies, violence, and fear. The two will make war on the battlefield of the body. Whichever wins, humanity will lose again.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
Every year tordotcom publishes something weird, spooky, and probably at least a little fucked up that takes me completely by surprise by how damn good it is and this year that book is Leech. A body-collecting parasite, a weird 18th-century creepy gothic house but in a post-post-apocalyptic setting, and creepy in-universe folk tales that slowly come to life. It’s really not a combination that should work but damn it does.
One of the comps to this book has been Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, for the layers of characters in a hive-mind aspect. In Leech, instead of layers of AI, we have layers of parasites. I’ll just say right now that the parasite is my favorite character. Its weird imperfections that make it, well, not human but a flawed living being, its determination to be the best (and only) practitioner of medicine in this re-growing society, and its weirdly if hilariously inflated ego make it such a fun and compelling character to read.
Like Ancillary Justice, our hive-mind slowly finds itself fractured into smaller and smaller pieces, bringing about questions of self, and what it means to be human if you’re technically a parasite in a human-meatbag cosplay. Ennes does a phenomenal job tackling these questions without giving the readers the answer, but simply creating scenarios and outcomes that give the reader pause, to question motivations in a story where all the characters, frankly, are assholes.
On the other hand, I would love to see some slice-of-life short stories with just the parasite, maybe not in as threatening of a situation, just going about its day and doing parasite hive-mind things, performing flawless surgery, taking over a human body, etc, etc.
I must praise the atmosphere that Ennes creates throughout this story, because I don’t think it would have been half as good if the gothic aspect had not been nailed. The manor of rich assholes so unfamiliar with the needs of daily people, the unexplained horrific folk tales that show up (nuclear winters will do that), and just the delicious amount of body horror that gets squeezed in. For those that dislike violence against babies, I offer a gentle but stern warning to stay away.
Perhaps my only detractor to this book is the fact that I didn’t really like the ending, but that’s because I cheered for the wrong character and is therefore entirely on me.
Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5. This was an absolutely phenomenal gothic read with hiveminded parasites, gothic atmosphere, fantastic use of body horror, and questions of self and humanity. An absolute must-read.
r/Fantasy 2022-23 Bingo Squares:
- Weird Ecology
- Non-Human Protag
- Title sans the, a/an, and, or, if, of, but