Come Back to the Swamp – Laura Morrison

*I received a free ARC of this novel, with thanks to the author, Black Spot Books – Vesuvian Books and NetGalley.  The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb: Award-Winning Finalist, 2020 International Book Award, Novella

Bernice loved the swamp. And the swamp loved her back.

Working on completing her ecology graduate degree, Bernice is doing invasive species research in Cleary Swamp when she is confronted by a mysterious hag who says she is the swamp’s caretaker. When Bernice discovers that the hag is actually a woman named Rebecca Hallett who disappeared in the swamp decades before, she attempts to remove the strange old woman from Cleary Swamp, but little does Bernice know that Rebecca has a mystical bond to the area—one that possesses a human host and bonds them to it.

One magical hallucinogenic powder cocktail and a space opera spirit journey later, Bernice’s life has changed forever. The swamp wants her for its new caretaker, and it won’t take no for an answer.

This novella is a quick read that combines B-movie horror with a more serious ecological message.

Bernice is battling invasive non-native species’ in the middle of Cleary Swamp when she stumbles across a mysterious old woman. The woman claims to BE the swamp, but Bernice’s research into the area’s history suggest that she may be a local woman who has been missing for years. The problem is that, not only could both options be true, but the swamp is looking for its next protector and Bernice fits the bill nicely. Can she resist the supernatural pull of the swamp?

The obvious theme here, which doesn’t just underpin the story but pretty much overwhelms it, is the balance between humans and nature, and the danger of invasive non-native species (or colonisers) taking over natural species and destroying the native environment. It did occur to me that this message was a little undermined by the necessity for a human caretaker/avatar! Surely the swamp should be able to protect itself with natural defences rather than needing a token human ‘saviour’?

That aside, this was a fun, short, creepy read. The characterisations of Bernice and her friend Kevin are engaging and the setting is immersive and atmospheric. I actually felt there was enough in this idea to fill a full novel, and would have liked more development about the history of the swamp, its supernatural elements, and Bernice’s eventual involvement in its story.

I could definitely see this making a really good horror film!

Armed with her trusty steel hedge clippers, Bernice sallied forth to do battle with the invasive species threatening to overtake Cleary Swamp. The biodiversity of the swamp would not get shot to hell on her watch. No, sir. As long as she had any say, this wetland would be a haven for swamp rose mallow and shumard oak.
Too bad she didn’t have a say in the welfare of Cleary Swamp for much longer; she was soon to get her master’s degree and move on to a different university for her PhD. After that, the invasives would be free to commence their bloody (chlorophyll-y) march across the wetland, their roots feeding off the dead bodies of the poor natives lacking the evolutionary defences to compete. Brutal. Sad. Perhaps inevitable.

– Laura Morrison, Come Back to the Swamp




Find more from Laura Morrison at her website here, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.

Come Back to the Swamp is available on Amazon right now.

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