Book Review: CREATURES OF THE DESERT

Thank you, Erewhon Books, for sending me a copy of Desert Creatures in exchange for an honest review!

At nine years old, Magdala and her father find themselves exiled from their home and seeking refuge in the Sonoran Desert. There they join other survivors on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Las Vegas. Magdala, born with a clubfoot, hopes the holy vigilantes can heal her. But as the pilgrims quickly succumb to the horrors of the desert, Magdala ends up finding herself alone.

After seven years of surviving on her own, Magdala takes matters into her own hands. She kidnaps an exiled priest at gunpoint and heads for Vegas again. The two must learn to trust each other to survive the monstrous wasteland and achieve their salvation.

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I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how much I enjoyed this book. desert creatureThat ticks all the boxes on my incredibly niche list of things I look for in a book. It’s a post-apocalyptic, far-west version of Jeff VanderMeerit is Annihilation combined with The real courage and The roadand it is absolutely beautiful.

Kay Chronoster takes a break desert creatures in three parts: Outlaws, Exiles and Ghosts. It’s basically three novels stitched together by Magdala’s story. Each section represents a crucial point in its development; Magdala goes from innocent child to wayward youth to criminal and hero, depending on who you ask.

Magdala reminds me a bit of Laura from Octavia Butlerit is parable of the sower. Although she is young, she is smart, determined and tough. Despite all the horror she faces, she adapts and fights her way through. Her journey from a child to a capable and powerful woman is incredible.

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This book is dark, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. Very few people in this world are kind, and many commit horrible acts to survive. Even those who try to do good suffer. Spend too much time in the desert and you could develop desert sickness. People slowly go mad, wandering until they die or merge with animal remains to roam the desert in misery. Despite the truly terrible things that happen, Chronister’s prose is poetic, and the uncanny becomes almost beautiful.

desert creatures takes a unique take on ecological horror. Unlike many other books of its kind, it does not look at the direct results of the climate crisis like global warming, pandemics, or rising sea levels. Instead, Chronister uses surreal elements to illustrate humanity’s response to a hostile planet.

I loved Chronoster’s decision to make Las Vegas a center of salvation in the desert wasteland. Although it holds religious relics and is home to living saints, Vegas is more focused on extracting what it can from desperate pilgrims while shutting down any so-called heretics the Church sees as a threat. Stopwatch uses desert creatures to explore hypocrisy, corruption, and religious control and critique America’s fusion of Christianity and right-wing capitalism.

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If you are looking for a post-apocalyptic and dystopian western, desert creatures is a perfect read. Check it out if you’re a fan of Annihilation or even The last of usand keep an eye on Kay Chronister for more!

desert creatures is out now and available for purchase from your local independent bookstore or Librairie.org.

TW: ableism, amputation, body horror, religious abuse/spiritual manipulation, death of child, death of parent, gun violence, implied sexual assault, murder, pregnancy, violence and gore

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Alex Faccibene
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