Blog Tour: Bad Cree by Jessica Johns

I was delighted to be invited to take part in the blog tour for Jessica Johns’s debut novel Bad Cree by Patricia at Scribe UK. Bad Cree was one of my most anticipated releases of 2023.

Mackenzie fled to Vancouver a year ago after her sister Sabrina’s sudden death, unable to cope with more grief. She feels she’s abandoned her Cree family and heritage, but doesn’t know how to go back. But then she starts to dream vividly of a snow-covered forest and a crow devouring her sister’s body. These are no ordinary dreams – Mackenzie brings crow feathers back with her when she wakes, and has to go to bed in jacket and boots so she doesn’t freeze in the woods. Mackenzie knows that the only people who can help her are her mother, surviving sister, aunties and cousins, who will understand why she’s seeing these things in her dreams. She returns to rural Alberta to try and escape, but also to seek help. Yet once she arrives, her phone stops working, except for cryptic messages from an unknown number, and she’s cut off from the outside world. Can Mackenzie and her family work together to find out why Sabrina died and to see off this supernatural threat?

A few weeks ago, I wrote that dream sequences never work for me in novels because ‘they are either cheap, cheaty psychological exposition or some annoying quasi-supernatural occurrence that could have happened in another way’. Well, Bad Cree is definitely the exception that proves the rule. I absolutely loved the time that Mackenzie spent in her dreams. I think this was so effective in this novel because Jessica Johns shows how rooted her experiences are in the Cree worldview, making them completely real to the reader. The way that Mackenzie’s family spring seriously into action when they hear about what’s happening to her also shows that this is very much a belief system that is practiced and practical, rather than a vague sense of ‘tradition’. I always like stories that engage seriously with spiritual and supernatural worldviews that conflict with a Global North/white settler sense of what’s ‘real’ and what’s ‘imaginary’, and this novel does this brilliantly. I also loved how Johns connects Mackenzie’s experiences to a sense of generational and individual trauma, or the ‘bad’ that lives inside her. The source of her family’s troubles is genocide and expropriation; through the supernatural elements in this novel, Johns is able to trace the gory damage this wreaks on spiritual bodies, with wounds appearing in dreams and disappearing in real life.

The core of the novel is Mackenzie’s family, and for this reason, I did wonder if Bad Cree spent a little too long in Vancouver before she decides to return home. Her friendship with Joli, a young Squamish co-worker, seems to be intended as a key connection for her in Vancouver, but I never really believed in her bond with Joli in the same way as I believed in her relationship with sister Tracey and cousin Kassidy. However, once Mackenzie arrives back in Alberta, this book flies. The first half lulled me into a false sense of security, as I believed this would be a gentle exploration of grief and loss, but it actually gets properly scary near the end, as Mackenzie’s family discover what’s following Mackenzie in her dreams. (The first ‘kakepâtis’ scene and its explanation was bonechilling). I’m always a fan of a powerful grandmother figure, so I also loved how Mackenzie’s relationship with kokum was developed even though kokum was dead for the whole of this novel; the final scene between them was so great, and reminded me of the hilarious, strong-willed grandmothers in Zen Cho’s wonderful collection of speculative Malaysian short stories, Spirits Abroad.

Bad Cree is a brilliantly effective horror novel, but it shouldn’t be skipped by readers who usually steer clear of the supernatural: its story is rooted in history, trauma and Cree religious belief.

I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review. Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

14 thoughts on “Blog Tour: Bad Cree by Jessica Johns

    • Fingers crossed! It’s a small press publisher in the UK, but the book so deserves to be there and I think it would fit the WP remit well if it finds its way into the judges’ hands.


  1. Pingback: February Superlatives, 2023 | Laura Tisdall

  2. Pretty cool to see a local book (for me) on your blog 🙂 I will probably end up buying this as it’s got 100 holds at the library! Great review, I wasn’t aware of the horror aspect but that makes it more appealing to me, as I’m always looking for horror books that I will connect with and this seems like a good candidate…

    Liked by 1 person

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