I will be straight with you. I loved it and a big reason is because Priest created a southern gothic world for me complete with a small town, old crumbly buildings, jaded people, swamps and trees galore draped with spanish moss, mist and humidity. To be honest, I remember the book (which I only finished reading yesterday!) as being hot and humid but…did I make that up? Maybe the book’s messing with me? It was spring in Georgia. My imagination could have got away on me in which case I thank Priest even more.
Right from early in the book, there were pointers that something was amiss. That helped keep my focus because I wanted to know what. What is it that’s going on just underneath the surface of this sad, tired old town? The clues kept coming intermittently and were resolved by the end.
There were concurrently running threads in The Toll. In one a couple called Melanie and Titus are heading for their honeymoon in Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia (a real place). An odd place for a honeymoon, perhaps. It causes a little friction between them on the drive. It is a national park, though (knowing that makes it better for me). The second story thread sees a young man called Cameron living with two old women in a rambling house in Staywater. The women are cousins, Daisy and Claire, and they found Cameron abandoned as a boy and have raised him since. The town of Staywater (not a real place as far as I know) is dead aside from a police station, a motel (mainly to cater to those visiting the national park, I think) and a bar that only opens from 4 pm until late.
One conversation at the cousin’s home went like this:
“We’re fine, same as always.”
“Same as always,” he echoed.
Everything in Staywater, always the same as always.
I had to go back and keep reading those three sentences about half a dozen times I liked it so much. It seems such a slow life watching life and services decay in a town with so few people left living in it but rest assured, Staywater has some dramatic stuff going on under the surface.
The character development was excellent. Miss Claire, Miss Daisy, Cameron, Jess, Dave, Titus & his wife. Even Netta. Not that everyone was likeable, for example I hated Titus and Melanie’s relationship (they’d only just married and the bickering! Omg). But Priest wrote them so well. At one point Melanie said, “I say a lot of shit,” and Titus said nothing, deciding it was low-hanging fruit. *smirk* So, there were amusing moments. Some characters I could really get behind. The old cousins were interesting, strong women and Cameron was a funny kid and easy to like.
Note: If you’re interested to read about some other things I enjoyed in The Toll, you’ll have to join me on Goodreads and read my review there because they include spoilers.
Cherie Priest’s other work
Now I have to say this. Two months ago I tried reading Preist’s Maplecroft, and I did not finish it. It didn’t even make it to my DNF list because I couldn’t get through enough. Straight away I felt the style and genre wasn’t for me. But, The Toll seems very different.
In a nutshell
I loved this book. Yes, ma’am, I did. I’m a sucker for southern stories and this one delivered and has gone straight on my all-time favourites list. ♥️
Title | The Toll
By | Cherie Priest
Published | 2019 by Tor Books