(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

On Elena Beauchamp’s tombstone is carved the legend “There are some gifts which cannot be refused.” Elena had the gift of magic, and passed on part of it to her daughter Candy, who can see certain aspects of the future. But her other daughter, Antoinette, who is determined to be as unlike her mother as possible, nevertheless receives the darker part of her mother’s magic. In a cabinet in the family living room are dolls representing spirits called Riders: the Mockingbird, the Widow, Pierrot, Mr. Copper, Sugar, and the Preacher. A sixth spirit, the Little Lost Girl, inhabits the house but has no doll of her own; she figures prominently in all of the stories told about the other Riders.

Each Rider has particular qualities. Sugar is flirty and loving, the Mockingbird assimilates different personalities, the Preacher is grim and bitter, Pierrot is a funny but cruel clown, Mr. Copper never loses at games, and the Widow rules the family with an iron fist. Any one of them can take over Toni’s body without warning, completely suppressing her personality and absolutely controlling what she does. She hates this legacy from her mother, but can do nothing about it, and when she loses her job soon after becoming pregnant, Toni is in deep trouble both financially and emotionally. In addition, her sister is getting married, she has put a curse on her former boss without actually meaning to, an old family friend has recently died, and her mother’s other...

(The entire section is 445 words.)