I love a female villain. I don’t read about a lot of them, however. Maybe it’s the books I’m choosing but I don’t see it often enough in my opinion. And black female villains? So rare. During an online Twitter party a week ago, I read about how many readers would love to see a black female villain.
Enter The New Mrs. Collins by Quanie Miller. It’s listed as paranormal on Amazon, but I’d venture to say this book steps its toes into the waters of horror. Just a bit. Enough to cause a few ripples.
Deservedly so. The New Mrs. Collins is an unsettling book with a female villain whose origins are initially obscured. Adira doesn’t know what she is (and neither does the protagonist or the reader until much later.). I enjoy when an author is able to make a “What type of monster is this?” background work for a character. I also love to draw my own conclusions in a book, so I like that not everything about the villain is spelled out.
Adira has a great deal of self-hatred, perhaps understandably, but it didn’t make me sympathetic toward her. I did, however, sympathize with our heroine. Leena is jilted on her wedding day and finds out her husband-to-be had taken up with the mysteriously beautiful, poised, and successful Adira. Adira breezes in, making demands that Leena “give in” to what’s happened and try to move on with finding her own happiness.
But she can’t. There’s something wrong with Mrs. Collins and few people can see it. Those who do are quickly dealt with in ways made even more chilling because of the distant, almost carefree manner Adira uses.
Miller’s writing style is strong and self-assured. I found the setting of small town Louisiana realistic and refreshing in a story that isn’t steeped in voodoo. She doesn’t hesitate to include colloquialisms, and glimpses into the African-American lifestyle in the South in her work without explanations for those unfamiliar. Since I am familiar, I enjoyed those gems: quips and witticisms of town matriarchs, creative expletives, the whole town’s involvement in preparations for the wedding, and the town ladies’ open criticism of the other woman.
In addition, I felt the fact Leena had a child, was not something covered in a lot of paranormal stories today. It made a connection to the former fiancé that was unbreakable, also making Leena’s son a pawn in Adira’s game. Miller is also not shy about putting her characters in desperate situations. After the jilting Leena gives the store clerk her engagement ring to pay for her “My world is crumbling right now” snacks.
One of the best things about the book was that these female characters were fighting for something other than a man. Yes, the struggle began because if his abandoning Leena at the altar, and you would think the entire plot struggle would make him crucial in its resolution, but it happily didn’t. (Honestly, I’m struggling to recall his name.) But the story is about the mystery of Adira that Leena can’t leave alone and her determination to uncover her secrets. She knows there’s something wrong with her… something off and she has to solve it.
Even after being warned off, Leena has to get to the bottom of Adira’s origins. Her obsession causes people who were on her side to turn their backs on her. (Another reason I want to call this a horror novel. Leena experiences so much isolation. Most from her legitimate attempts to help other people whom Adira has tried to destroy.)
Finally, Leena discovers Adira’s mother and we find out a little more about the woman’s motivations through a glimpse at her childhood. Again, it didn’t make me necessarily sympathetic toward her, because kids can be creepy. But I did see the genesis of evil, helped along by a heavy dose of parental fear.
I won’t give you anything on what Adira is capable of, that’s part of the fun of this book. But I will say that I would recommend it as a great summer chiller.