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The Safety of Unknown Cities
Lucy Taylor
Overlook Connection Press, 277 pages

Art: Neal McPheeters
The Safety of Unknown Cities
Lucy Taylor
Lucy Taylor was born in 1951 in Richmond, Virginia. She studied philosophy and art history at the University of Richmond, graduating with a B.A. in philosophy. Her first writing was non-fiction, mainly travel writing, and she has also taught English in Japan. She turned to fiction when she moved to Boulder, Colorado. Her first novel, The Safety of Unknown Cities (1995) received the Bram Stoker Award, along with the International Horror Critics Award and the Deathrealm Award. Her short fiction has been collected in Close to the Bone (1993), Unnatural Acts (1994), The Flesh Artist (1994) and Painted in Blood (1997). A horror novella, Spree, came out recently.

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A review by Alisa McCune

The Safety of Unknown Cities by Lucy Taylor demands a new categorization. While it certainly is a horror novel, the graphic sex and thriller-suspense aspects make it a unique and fascinating book to read. It is no wonder this book won the Bram Stoker award for best first novel in 1995.

Our heroine, Val, is most definitely damaged, but we certainly can relate to her. Her mother, Lettie starts the novel off by gouging out her eyes with a spoon. This act sets the tone of the book and foreshadows what is to come.

Val leads a very nomadic life. She travels from one city to another, from one bed to another, in search of a 'new' thrill -- something that will fill the void inside of herself. From whispers and gossip, Val learns of a place called the 'City,' a place that makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like Little House of the Prairie. Val becomes obsessed with finding this place and sampling all it has to offer.

Entering into this tangle of characters is Breen, a cross between Hannibal Lector and Jeffrey Dahmar. Breen is one scary person and has set his sties on obtaining and killing Val. Nothing will stand in his way and he will do anything to posses her.

The Safety of Unknown Cities is not just about graphic sex and violence. It is also about the loss of childhood and innocence. Lettie damaged Val and as a result, Val seeks out the thrills that dominate her life. Val is unable to truly love and to receive love in return. She recognizes a part of herself that is capable of committing heinous acts in the pursuit of pleasure. Val is afraid redemption will mean the loss of sexual fulfillment.

As the story progresses, the sex becomes more graphic and less appealing. In the beginning of Val's journey the sex acts seem to be enjoyable and titillating to read. Further into the novel, they clearly becoming more like a bodily function you wish no one would mention. In the 'City,' everything and anything goes. Nothing is taboo. Lucy Taylor shows us glimpses of sexual deprivation that creates images in your mind you will wish you could forget.

I was very ambivalent writing this review as the subject matter will not be appropriate for a large number of readers. This book was hard to read. The sexual acts become very disturbing and gave me a few nightmares. This alone is testament to Lucy Taylor's wonderful skills as a writer. After much thought, I decided the book has a great deal of value in our world today. In America, sexual images are everywhere. This overload of sexuality is a key element in The Safety of Unknown Cities. How do you find love and fulfillment in a world that promotes deprivations and promiscuity? At the conclusion of the book, we are left to ponder this and many other questions about love.

Copyright © 2004 Alisa McCune

Alisa discovered science fiction at the tender age of eight. She devoured The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and never looked back. She lives in Chicago with her husband, cat, and 5000 books. For more information please visit her website at

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