Have you ever read something and had that little click where you realize that long-forgotten thrill of discovery has returned? I remember it used to happen all the time when I was younger: new fantastical worlds, interesting characters, staying up all night to finish the story. Post-degree and analytical to a fault, I’ve had trouble remembering why I love reading. That is, until I read Goddess of Filth by V. Castro.
This novella packs a potent punch in its limited pages. A group of teen girls on the cusp between high school and their next phases decide to hold a séance for fun. When Lourdes puts a call into the universe for power, power answers and possesses the innocent Fernanda. What follows is a journey to understand this goddess, to save Fernanda, and to re-discover hope when all seems lost.
First, I’m not sure whether I fell in love with the feminine energy of the book first, or how honestly the characters are brought to the page. Lourdes, Fernanda, Ana, Perla, and Pauline all carry varying weights to the plot, but the differences in their lives also adds richness to the story. Lourdes, as our main narrator, is bitter and angry at a world that counts against her success, and works multiple jobs to support her family. Fernanda, off to college in the fall, holds the hopes and expectations of her friends and family, and isn’t quite allowed to be herself. Through the possession, these girls are given a kind of freedom that isn’t often portrayed within the typical possession story. Perhaps that’s due to the more often seen male savior trope and how the “free” feminine is cast as horrific through that lens. Additionally, most of the supporting characters are women. I liked the foil of Fernanda’s devout mom, Mrs. Garcia, against the more liberal professor, Dr. Camacho. As in film, it is rare to find a story that revolves around women without centering men in some way.
Not to say that men aren’t involved in this plot. We primarily have two: Father Moreno and Ruben. Father Moreno seems like our usual heroic priest, a man of God who will rescue the innocent Fernanda from her “demon.” The book does give us moments in his perspective and, from here, we find a man who is possessed in his own ways. He’s a captivating character and I like how the narrative uses him for suspense. Ruben, on the other hand, serves as a kind of love interest as repressed sexuality is tossed aside in favor of exploration. If this were any other book, we might have that prototypical “summer love story before college” type thing, but the relationship isn’t about that.
A slick plot and a few subplots are packed into this novella. While I at first wanted more out of the beginning séance—more build, more time, more ritual—I think it works in the end. The focus isn’t on the moment of possession, but rather on the relationship between Fernanda and the goddess (who I’m not fully revealing for spoilers’ sake) and how that affects other people. We have Lourdes’ plot, which does revolve around the mystery of Fernanda’s possession, but also the overhanging fear of her future. The aforementioned romantic and sexual subplot. We have a subplot about Father Moreno and his past. There’s also a subplot about local girls going missing. All of these are balanced and come to various conclusions, some of which are more satisfactory than others.
The novella is told in various perspectives, and this mostly works to its advantage. The primary narrator is Lourdes, who speaks from first-person. Fernanda also has moments on the page, and speaks in third-person. Likewise, Father Moreno appears in the third-person. At first, it’s a little confusing, but easy enough to catch onto once it becomes a pattern. We also have a handful of flashbacks, and this also requires a bit of situating, but become clear. The contrast of perspectives works great from a character standpoint: Lourdes is invested in protecting Fernanda and understanding the goddess, Fernanda has her own confusion and desires when it comes to this possession, and Father Moreno seeks to protect Fernanda’s virtue no matter the cost. We can then see how these goals work with and against each other throughout the plot.
Thematically, Goddess of Filth takes a lot of the same themes from other possession stories and flips them by virtue of its perspectives. We still have traditional religion versus an ancient entity, but the battle of “good” and “evil” shifts when our characters have varying relationships with the church, when we try to understand the goddess’ motives, and when other tropes (like our heroic priest) become shaky. As mentioned earlier, we also have an ongoing commentary on sexual repression and virtue versus freedom and exploration. It’s standard for the poor possessed innocent to commit shockingly sexual acts (usually masturbation), and this is seen as proof of a demonic presence. Sex, after all, is Bad. However, Castro’s novella situates these same scenarios as an exploration of pleasure and womanhood. They then become natural acts rather than supernatural. Other themes involve the oppression of the Latino and Hispanic people, especially women; the struggle for education and importance of representation there; and the impact of support from friends.
As for moments of horror, the novella does some interesting things. Typically, moments of shocking sexual behavior are portrayed horrifically, but not here. Even things like menstruation, usually horrific from the male-perspective in a possession story, are given an understanding lean here. Like, why are we supposed to be scared of things that are natural? That, then, makes the more “unnatural” moments horrific. Moments where Fernanda isn’t in control of her body. Moments of divine retribution. Moments of true sin. A permeating fear of the unknown: bodies, the future, sexuality, religion. I also adore the description of the goddess and the slight body horror of possession when she and Fernanda overlap. When the novella does give us a taste of something scary, it mostly works.
V. Castro’s novella resonates on so many levels. I’d recommend it for recovering Catholics and those who wallowed in purity culture for too long; for readers who can’t get enough of the possession subgenre but feel they’ve seen everything; if you want a horror ending that has a pleasant surprise; or if you want more tales where women dominate the page. I’d also recommend this for readers, like me, who need a new sense of discovery. Summon a copy today and let the Goddess of Filth possess you.