by Gregory Frost
Tor, 2003 , ISBN 0-765-30195-4
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
The latest in Terri Windling's Fairy Tale series is an adaptation of the story of Bluebeard, set in the Finger Lakes region of New York in the first half of the 19th century. I'm going to proceed on the assumption that anyone reading this is familiar with the basic Bluebeard story. A Boston widower with three beautiful daughters has remarr ied, to a woman who leads him into the orbit of a millenialist preacher, the Reverend Elias Fitcher. Rev. Fitcher has announced that the world will end within the next year, and that only those who are accepted into his utopian community of Harbinger will be saved. (Fitcher and his followers are based on a real millenial movement, the Millerites, whose leader predicted the end of the world in 1843.) So Mr. Charter takes his new wife, Lavinia, and his three daughters (Vernelia, Amelia, and Katherine) off to Harbinger. There they are installed in the community's gatehouse, to collect a toll from each family seeking to enter Harbinger. They quickly discover that the house has an odd history--the previous gatekeeper and his wife, the Pulaskis, vanished, and there's apparently a ghost or spirit residing in the room shared by the three girls. The spirit predicts that each of the girls will have a suitor before the end, and in short order, Rev. Fitcher pays them a visit and decides to take the eldest, Vernelia, as his bride.
Vern is quickly whisked off to her new life as Mrs. Fitcher, in the main Harbinger community, completely separated from her family in the gatehouse. It doesn't take her long to realize there's something very wrong about her husband, and something very strange about life in Harbinger, including some odd deaths and disappearances. Eventually, of course, her husband gives her the keys to the main house at Harbinger, tells her she can go anywhere except the one room whose lock is opened by the small, glass key, and then leaves her for another proselytizing journey. This ends in the expected manner, and Fitcher, sadly informing his wife's family that she has run off to join a lover in Boston, has the marriage annulled and marries Amy. Amy in her turn makes unpleasant discoveries, with the expected result.
None of the sisters is either stupid or weak-willed, but in proper fairy-tale fashion, it\rquote s the youngest sister, Kate, who is clever enough and stubborn enough to find the truth and escape Fitcher's trap.
This latest in the Fairy Tales series is, once again, a very good adaptation of the traditional story for modern, adult readers.