Paul reviews Bound Feet by Kelsea Yu, a horror novella published by Cemetery Gates Media, book three in their standalone, My Dark Library series.
|Series: My Dark Library #3
|Date of Publishing: September 27th, 2022
|Trigger Warnings: Death of a child, body horror, violence.
|Page count: 120
|Publisher: Cemetery Gates Media
On the night of the Hungry Ghost Moon, when spirits can briefly return to the living world, Jodi Wu and her best friend sneak into Portland’s Chinese Garden and Ghost Museum. Kneeling before the pond where Jodi’s toddler drowned one year before, they leave food offerings and burn joss paper—and Jodi prays that Ella’s ghost will return for the night.
To distract Jodi from her grief, the two friends tell each other ghost stories as they explore the museum. They stop at the main display, a centuries-old pair of lotus slippers belonging to a woman whose toes were broken and bound during childhood. While reading the woman’s story, Jodi hears her daughter’s voice.
As Jodi desperately searches the garden, it becomes apparent that Ella isn’t the only ghost they’ve awakened. Something ancient with a slow, shuffling step lurks in the shadows…
Having reached the end of my initial SPFBO first-round reads, I was hankering for something short, something different, and, given the season, something a little spooky. Bound Feet by Kelsea Yu was a book that I’d seen posted on Twitter and had already earmarked thanks to its rooting in Chinese folklore and the rather enticing cover.
Bound Feet tells the story of two friends, Jodi and Sarah, whose relationship was born and blossomed in the crucible of grief. The novella itself plays out over a single night, a night where the usually sussurrant past may be more inclined to scream should it be nudged appropriately. In terms of plot, I’m not going to say any more than that, as going in blind with minimal insight is absolutely the best way to enjoy Yu’s haunting work.
From the outset, Bound Feet is highly atmospheric with beautifully evocative environmental descriptions and language, coupled with a tight, intimate first-person focus. Fingerprints of trauma and loss dust the opening pages, and as the novella progresses, these emotions are drawn to the surface, becoming the primal motivators that drive Jodi’s actions.
The relationship between Jodi and Sarah is captured with great authenticity. The love and sisterhood between them feels genuine, the dialogue has a playful back and forth, but there is also a very palpable amount of support and protectiveness, particularly from Sarah to Jodi. It’s this well-developed and well-portrayed friendship that really sets up the multiple twists to land with such devastating ferocity.
All of the horror elements, for me, landed perfectly and with precision pacing. Though you are mentally yelling ‘DON’T GO IN THERE’ very early on, the build-up is nice and slow, with a gradual blending of reality and ‘other’, culminating with the appearance of our antagonist.
Bound Feet is a delightfully dark read, full of thought-provoking themes, strong female characters, and a cautionary tale of how the truth will always come out, eventually.