The Toll by Cherie Priest

Posted On 15 July 2019

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TheTollThe Toll is a tale of the supernatural full of gothic type goodness set in a swamp where more than alligators live.  This is a story of ghosts and hungry creatures waiting in the dark.  To be upfront about it – this didn’t scare me, which I think I was expecting after being chilled to the bone by The Family Plot, but, nonetheless it was a good read with an intriguing mystery at its core.

We start the story with an introduction to Titus and his wife Davinia.  They’re on their way to honeymoon on the Okenfenokee Swamp – and they’re arguing, chiefly about who had the big idea to go canoeing on a swamp in the first place, it certainly doesn’t sound romantic, then they come across a single lane bridge that looks a little bit menacing.  They’re reluctant to cross to say the least.  Visibility is poor and the aspect is ominous but eventually they set off, with misgivings.  Unfortunately their gut reactions, that were trying to get them to turn back and run, were only too right.  Titus wakes up in the middle of the road, the car stands vacant and his wife is missing.  Eventually he calls the police who, when they arrive, are adamant that there is no seventh bridge and seem to be taking Titus and his tale with a pinch of salt.  Although there is a good degree of eye avoidance suggesting that Titus and his disappearing bridge are already a known element.

So, welcome to Staywater, a place where people quite often become trapped.  They come for a holiday and stay for life – although it’s more out of necessity than love of the place.  This is a place where people are haunted by memories, by missing people and by the strange occurences that everyone just ignores.  Staywater is a dying place.  The number of residents has been in decline for years – of course persistent floods and whispers of a serial killer could explain some of the ways in which the population have been decimated but deep down everyone knows that something is fundamentally wrong in this place.

In terms of the characters.   Titus is the main character, he’s joined by a number of the residents, the local barkeep, a young man barely grown into his own moustache called Cameron and his aunts, Claire and Daisy.  Claire and Daisy are two old spinsters living out on the edge of the swamp.  Everyone fears them, even the ‘thing’ that can’t be named.  They have their own brand of magic and I confess that they were my favourite element to the story.  One thing about Cherie Priest.  She has a wonderful way of drawing a character and making them appear quite easily in your mind’s eye.  Alright, she doesn’t really try to avoid any tropes here but there is a lovely, almost tongue-in-cheek style that makes the familiarity seem fresh.

In terms of criticisms.   It’s difficult to pin down why The Toll didn’t completely blow me away.  There are so many elements to this story that are without doubt my cup of tea but there’s a vague feeling of things being incomplete.  I want to know more.  More about Cameron, about the two cunning aunts and more about Staywater.  I think in some respects this almost feels like a short story somehow and yet at over 300 pages that really isn’t the case although it does testify to the quickness of both the read and the pacing.  I can’t put my finger on anything specific to be honest.  I wouldn’t say this was a scary read and perhaps that was something that I felt the lack of – maybe because I went into the read expecting to be given a serious case of the heebie jeebies.  I loved the gothic feel and the whole mystery element but I think in a nutshell this lacked that certain something that would have really given me the chills.

On the whole though, well written and enjoyable and certainly a place that I would be curious to read more about.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Rating 3.5 stars of 5


14 Responses to “The Toll by Cherie Priest”

  1. Tammy

    I’ll admit I wish your rating was higher, but I plan on reading this soon anyway. Fantastic review!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Thanks – I hope you love it. I certainly didn’t dislike it, it just didn’t have the scare factor that I was expecting.
      Lynn 😀

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    With the kind of premise you describe at the start of your review I was indeed expecting a far scarier tale, so I think I understand your lukewarm reaction to the story – it’s a pity because it sounds quite promising…

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s still a good read – CP is such a good writer and I really like her. But, I wasn’t scared as such, I was intrigued though.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Barb (boxermommyreads)

    I’m starting this this week after finishing “Shadow of Night.” I love several of Priest’s other books and feel that for the most part, they are highly atmospheric and slightly creepy. I did love The Family Plot. But let me say, perhaps because my husband didn’t take me to a swamp for our honeymoon may be one reason we are still together 🙂 Also, reading your description of the town made me think of The Eagles’ Hotel California. Great review and I’m looking forward to this one. Wish it had worked a tad better for you though.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Don’t get me wrong – I liked it, and I do love this author, I just wasn’t scared or creeped out – which I expected. I hope you love it and look forward to reading your thoughts.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky

    Hmm interesting! I was excited about the premise and was definitely expecting this to be a lot scarier. It does feel like it could worked better as a novella, maybe?

    • @lynnsbooks

      The funny thing is – it was such a quick read that it actually felt like a novella. I expected it to be more creepy tbh but, that being said, I could be a mood thing so perhaps it will feel scarier to others.
      Lynn 😀

  5. waytoofantasy

    Great review, Lynn. I have yet to read Cherie Priest. I didn’t realize she wrote these types of stories, I think I’m mostly familiar with her steampunk series. Interesting!

  6. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I’m actually reading this one right now, got through the first few chapters while on vacation, so I’m not reading your full review, but am glad to hear overall that it intrigued you! I’m very curious to see what’s going to happen, I’m at the part where Titus has has lost Melanie and has settled in at the town bar! 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s a very unusual place isn’t it – I just loved certain aspects of this but I think there’s something lacking somewhere that I can’t put my finger on and it definitely didn’t scare me the way that Family Plot did – in fact, maybe that’s the problem, perhaps I went into this with the wrong expectations. Still a good read but not quite as powerful for me as some of her others.
      Lynn 😀

  7. July : My Month in Review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Toll by Cherie Priest […]

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