A Pest Most FiendishA Pest Most Fiendish by Caighlan Smith
My rating: 3/5 cats
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“I’ve got a hit. ‘Lichfiend’.”

“A lichfiend? Gadzooks! What’s a lichfiend?”

“‘They come from the bridge to the land of the dead. They breathe in ill will and breathe out soul-separating terror, which takes the form of a fog.’”

“Or a mist. They couldn’t have used the word ‘mist’? It’s much more a mist than a fog.”

“Hush, I’m still reading. ‘They create a special type of revenant—undead that devour the soul but not the flesh, blood or bone. A new revenant is created when an old revenant sucks out the soul of a living being. The lichfiend itself creates the first revenant of every horde, but can only suck out one soul per horde and so must rely on its revenants to increase the horde’s numbers and gather souls’.”

“Weak points?”

“The usual, for the revenants: Get the brain.”

“Headshots it is.”

this is just a little puff of a story—a whimsical steampunk bonbon that comes close to crossing into “too twee for mee” territory, but has enough charming banter to outweigh the relentless bustle-and-pluck energy of its heroine, which typically exhausts me, as a reader. it’s a steampunk x-files/inspector gadget, in which miss pippa kipling investigates supernatural phenomena alongside her steadfast automaton companion, known as “the porter,” but also by several other appellations miss pippa test drives throughout the story. miss pippa also has many monster-fighting/locating accoutrements tucked in amongst her petticoats and whatnot, which come in handy as she tracks the mysterious lichfiend through a spooky cave formation.

just to give you a sense of the rhythm of the story:

“The proprietor informed us, prior to purchase, that there is another cavern, full of natural hot springs just beyond that ledge. We’d planned to build a lift from here to there, so that guests may partake of a soothing spa experience, but every team we’ve sent to plot out the lift has failed to do so.”

“Might it be possible for the Porter and me to have a word with those teams?”

“Oh, my dear Miss Kipling, what I meant by ‘failed to do so’ is that they’ve disappeared and—a small percentage of those consulted believe—quite died.”

“Hmm, I see.” Pippa waved at the Porter. “Do add that to the notes, pet. Perhaps put an asterisk by it?”

Mr Bradbury dropped his voice. “Is the automaton quite up for keeping notes?”

“Oh, certainly not. It’s bound to be gibberblub, but sometimes she makes the most delightful doodles and those always cheer me up during a potentially fatal mission. Did the teams take this charmingly convenient path over here?” Pippa waved to the precarious trail hugging the cavern wall. It disappeared into the mist partway down, and was so thin one would have to crab-walk to avoid falling.

“That is indeed the path. Shall you be taking the job, Miss Kipling?”

“Certainly, Mr Bradbury. Have you the contract?”

despite all its affectations, the story itself is entertaining, the actual monstery bits are original and clever, and i do like the dynamic between miss pippa and the porter. i’m not sure if i could read a novel-length adventure with this character, but as a short story, it’s a satisfying, only slightly cloying, amuse-bouche.

read it for yourself here:…

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