REVIEW: Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine

Header image for Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine

Delicate Condition is the emotionally fraught Adult Horror debut of bestselling YA Horror writer, Danielle Valentine. The book, pitched as a feminist update to Rosemary’s Baby, is already making waves, having been chosen as the premise for the upcoming American Horror Story: Delicate. Now in its twelfth season, the popular TV show will star Kim Kardashian, and will air sometime later this year.

Cover for Delicate Condition by Danielle ValentineAnna Alcott is desperate for a baby. As she balances her public life as a critically acclaimed actor with her gruelling IVF journey, she becomes increasingly convinced a sinister stranger is trying to thwart her pregnancy. As her symptoms become more frightening and the sense of impending doom escalates, Anna begins to fear the thing growing inside her. But why won’t anyone listen when she tells them something is horribly, painfully wrong?

A cathartic and reassuringly familiar read in many respects, Delicate Condition is also a traumatic and potentially triggering one. It’s been a long time since I thought so highly of a book I simultaneously found so unpleasant to read. Danielle Valentine pulls no punches as she thoroughly explores the very real horror of medical misogyny and the psychologically damaging effect it has on its victims. The things Anna experiences in this book are utterly horrific, and will feel painfully familiar to any woman—cis or trans—who’s had the misfortune of being processed through our deeply flawed medical system.

“Nearly everyone on this planet was welcomed by the sounds of a woman screaming.”

As such, if you’re actively seeking some kind of supernatural body horror from Delicate Condition, you may find yourself disappointed. Although these elements are present to a certain extent, the book’s true horror lies in its stark mirror of reality. When the thriller elements do take a backseat in favour of the more traditional horror set pieces—all of which are heavily backloaded—they can feel left-field and jarring. Even as a fan of supernatural horror myself, I have to say I could’ve done without them.

None the less, Danielle Valentine is a very skilled and practical writer who does a great job of ratcheting up tension. The pacing can be a little on the slow side, but it is steadily maintained throughout, resulting in a consistent, stomach-churning tension that never stops rising. My heart ached for Anna as she fought to be heard by those meant to support her, and I felt sickened with frustration over her complete lack of body autonomy. I even found myself shedding a tear over one particularly harrowing scene, which I don’t think anyone with even a shred of empathy would fail to be moved by.

Some of the characters in Delicate Condition—particularly the men, and especially Anna’s loathsome husband Dex—do read a little on the flat side, but in my opinion, it doesn’t really matter. The careful deconstruction of not only Anna’s fracturing psyche, but the behemoth that is the medical institution, more than makes up for it. I do wish Danielle Valentine had gone in a lot harder on additional nuances like medical racism and classism, but I’m pleased to report these were not completely ignored.

This was without a doubt one of the most uncomfortable reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. And yet, I do still find myself strongly recommending people read Delicate Condition. If you’re looking for your next psychological thriller—and the content warnings printed in the front of the book do not give you pause—then this is an important and insightful read which could very well be worth your time.

I myself am not a mother; I do not want children. And yet there isn’t a single mother I know who doesn’t have at least one pregnancy horror story to tell. We need to challenge the harmful idea that pregnancy is a universally wonderful experience, far too unknowable and mysterious to warrant further consideration. Delicate Condition makes a good start.

Read Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine

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Sally Berrow

Sally Berrow

Sally presently resides behind a mountainous pile of books in Greenhithe, UK, kept alive only by tea and surrounded by a menagerie of animals. A lifelong fantasy lover with a tendency towards the darker side of the genre, she hopes one day to write a grimdark fantasy of her own, inspired by the Golden Age of Piracy. She considers wringing an apology from Joe Abercrombie to be her greatest achievement.