REVIEW: Little Eve by Catriona Ward

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

Gothic horror comes to northern Scotland in Little Eve, Catriona Ward’s terrifying second novel. Originally published in 2018, Little Eve is winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and the British Fantasy Award for Best Horror. Little Eve has recently been republished by Tor Nightfire.

Little EveCatriona Ward chose the perfect setting for horror: the foreboding Isle of Altnaharra off the coast of the Scottish Highlands. Altnaharra is connected to the mainland only via a gated causeway which is exposed during low tide.

The novel opens in 1921 with the discovery of seven mutilated bodies arranged in a circle, heads radiating outward in the style of a compass. Even more disturbing, the right eyes of the victims have been gouged out, apparently as part of some occultist ritual.

Six of the seven victims are dead. But there is one survivor, Dinah, who points the finger of blame at fellow cult member Evelyn as the killer.

Most of the novel is told from the first-person perspectives of Dinah and Evelyn, allowing us to unravel the beliefs and rituals of their cult while understanding the events leading to this appalling mass murder. The cult members worship a snake deity known as the Adder, who will pass along its powers to one worthy follower as they prepare for the end of the world and its eventual rebirth. Young Evelyn will do anything to inherit these powers.

The chapters narrated by Evelyn are especially disturbing, detailing the cult’s snake-worship, blood sacrifices, and other horrific practices, as Evelyn learns the power of violence.

To help unravel the true workings of the cult, Catriona Ward also writes from the more objective perspective of Inspector Christopher Black, who is investigating the case and takes particular interest in Evelyn.

Underneath its layers of mystery and horror, Little Eve explores the meaning of belonging and family. The cult members—all girls separated from their biological families—are led by a charismatic, snake-handling patriarch whom they call Uncle. The novel spans from 1917 to 1946, covering the backstory of the cult members and the long-lasting impact of its violence.

Catriona Ward’s writing is dense but absorbing, with a hypnotic quality akin to staring in the unblinking eyes of a giant snake. I felt, at times, that the narrative was treading water. But everything came together at the end, with an immensely satisfying conclusion. All in all, Little Eve is a mesmerizing Gothic horror depicting the ease at which young minds can be steered toward insanity and violence.

4/5

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.