5 of 5 stars.
This dark fantasy strikes all the right, dissonant notes in portraying the layout and inhabitants of a bleak Tasmanian women’s penitentiary in the early 19th Century. Such prisons were called female factories for the labor output bestowed.
Bridewell Female Factory is under the cruel tight reins of Matron Avice Welles who in turn is repeatedly cowed and raped by her Supervisor. Welles takes out her frustration on her 3 taskmistresses that keep each of the tiered classes of prisoners toiling. She also misuses the forgotten orphans of deceased prisoners who are worked just as hard as the convicts.
Bert is the leader of the orphans. He leads Welles’ directed midnight raids to the Isle of the Dead to dig up recent corpses for Dr. Dalkeith’s sordid dissections and experiments. Bert pays particular attention to the autopsies and the doctor’s research into electrical stimulation of the dead. He’s also been stealing body parts . . .
This highly recommended tale leaves no character without scars, bruises and psychological damage. Where the institutional influence leaves off, inner torment and abuse kick in. Hope, life, status and mental state are all shown to be ephemeral phantasms.
“The Female Factory” appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 edited by Paula Guran and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in The Female Factory (Twelfth Planet Press). Previously, I’ve reviewed Angela Slatter’s enjoyable tale “A Good Husband” and Lisa L. Hannett’s “Forever, Miss Tapekwa County”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]