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Bad Cree by Jessica Johns

A review by Nalini Haynes

Mackenzie wakes from a nightmare, holding part of a crow. (My stomach clenches. Is this THAT kind of book? THAT kind of horror?) She worries that she’s a bad Cree, a Cree who left her family in mourning, who didn’t return for her sister’s funeral. Now she dreams of her sister, of crows, of a snowy landscape.

Despite my growing concern that this is a “real” horror, I keep reading.

Joli, a nonbinary work colleague and caring friend, captures my focus, as does their relationship. I keep reading.

Bad Cree is not THAT kind of horror but it’s dark fantasy, skirting the edges, balancing horror tropes with character development and a healing journey.

Grief and healing

Throughout this story, dreams expose grief and fears. In the dreaming as well as in the “real” world, Mackenzie must first learn, recognize the truth, then fight for her healing and for those who love her.

Representation

The author, Jessica Johns, is a proud member of both Cree and Queer communities. So, as you’d expect, representation is positive. And, to a degree, educational.

Dreaming is an important aspect of Cree knowledge and learning. Mackenzie’s dreams are like a flower unfolding, a flower that is part corpse flower and part lotus. However, Johns takes this dreaming one step further, with Mackenzie suffering physically in her dreams then waking freezing. She can even bring artefacts from her dreams into the waking world. So Johns takes the spiritual life of her people then ramps it up.

The verdict

Bad Cree is a poignant and powerful dark fantasy. As a reader I nearly put it down, fearing a more Wyrmwood-style blood-and-guts story. Don’t make that mistake. This is a beautiful exploration of family, love, grief, loss and – most importantly – healing.

I interviewed the author, Jessica Johns; podcast available here and on all good podcasting platforms.

Book details

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
ISBN (13): 9781922585653
Imprint: Scribe Publishing in Australia, Penguin Random House (Random Penguins to me!) elsewhere.
Format: I read the Scribe paperback version, pictured, which was 272 pages
Released: 2023
Category: Queer, Indigenous, dark fantasy/horror, grief, healing

Bad Cree cover: the title is surrounded by crows circling above the author's name

Nalini
Nalinihttps://www.darkmatterzine.com
Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.

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