Desert Creatures, the debut novel from genre short fiction writer Kay Chronister, is an immersive, near-future horror story that delivers a startling portrait of an American West ravaged by ecological disaster. Nine-year-old Magdala does not seem made for this world. Born with a clubfoot, she's always been dependent on her kindhearted father, Xavier. After embarking on an ill-fated pilgrimage to Las Vegas where she and Xavier hope for a miracle to fix her foot, Magdala loses all she holds dear. Afterward, she is left to survive years alone in the desert, hardening herself to the impossible conditions of her world. With new determination, Magdala takes an exiled priest, Elam, hostage; Elam is her guide to finish, by any means possible, her journey to Las Vegas.
Chronister's futuristic, dog-eat-dog Sonoran and Mojave deserts are as devastating as they are inventive, populated with traumatized individuals as well as surreal creatures that rage with a mysterious sickness. The most uncanny element of this atmospheric setting is not Chronister's impeccably detailed rendering of it but rather its unsettling resemblance to a future easily imagined, one dominated by paranoia and consumer competition. But Magdala's world is one of minor miracles as much as it is one of grand-scale destructions. Though the landscape is bleak, Chronister's heroic protagonists square off against gun-toting villains, providing a vision of near-legendary hope. Magdala, Elam and others grapple with what kinds of salvation remain possible in such a world, as Chronister cleverly deploys and subverts horror, dystopian and western genres alike in this razor-sharp novel. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor