Book Review: Written in the Blood

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Written in the Blood, by Stephen Lloyd Jones, is proof that a book can be as scary as a film. Full of shadowy, shape shifting creatures that possess untold, supernatural powers the plot moves along at a breathtaking pace. Each of the various groups described seem intent on hunting out and mercilessly killing, their travails tightly written and frighteningly descriptive. Moving across centuries and continents the reasons behind their exploits unfold gradually with each chapter set in a place and time that reveals a little more of the whole whilst leaving the reader eager to continue.

Set fifteen years after the authors debut work, The String Diaries, this sequel focuses on Hannah and Leah’s attempts to prevent the eventual demise of the hosszú életek, a long living species of which they are a part. A new adversary is introduced in this book, an ancient and near extinct species that feeds on the long lives. Along with the infighting of the pure blooded leaders and the vengeance sought by their outcasts it was sometimes difficult to keep track of the dangers that each enemy presented to our protagonists.

This was a more mature work than its prequel. The power struggles and nebulous justifications of the hosszú életek as they banished or killed miscreants reminded me of the medieval Jews or twentieth century Nazis with their desire to maintain the order and purity of their kind at whatever cost. This aspect did not make for comfortable reading. Despite the veneer of sympathy and civility I also questioned the difference, other than available time and therefore desperation for a solution, between the work being done by the breeding women and that of the seemingly more animalistic lélek tolvajok. Neither killed gratuitously; both would accept whatever sacrifice was required to save the lives of their children.

As with all the best horror stories there was enough in this tale to make it appear believable. The tension was unrelenting, outcomes unflinching. The ability of the protagonists to survive some of the assaults did however require something of a leap of faith.

By the end of the book I questioned the inclusion of only one strand, Leah’s visit to the old professor. Unlike its prequel this story contained few references to those who existed outside of the societies battling for survival. Some simavér became fodder, a micro bus owner offered a tantalising suggestion of a link to another tale. I do not know if the author’s third book is a continuation but there is certainly scope for a further instalment. I for one would be eager to read it should it ever be written.

This dark and compelling tale proves that SLJ’s skills as a writer are burgeoning. I thoroughly enjoyed this latest, chilling offering. Read it, if you dare.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.

Book Review: The String Diaries

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The String Diaries, by Stephen Lloyd Jones, succeeds in finding an original space in the popular genre of fast paced thriller. As with many good books the plot is not constrained by this single label, touching on horror, mystery and folklore as the tale unfolds. The bare bones of the climax may be inevitable, but the denouement is not.

The story moves across Northern Europe, between the late nineteenth century and the present day. It describes how generations of a family have been hunted and killed by an elusive being of which little is known outside of a series of diaries, which are guarded as the only means of warning for those left behind when the killer strikes. Historical records mention a tale that is widely believed to be fanciful folklore; the family diaries detail the frightening truth.

At times the actions of the present day hunted can appear overwrought. I did not warm to the heroine, finding the supporting cast more rounded and believable. Having said that though, she was the one to have suffered the most, she had the most to lose. None of us can know how we would act under such circumstances.

The book is long at well over six hundred pages, but the writing is tight and the build up and background added authenticity. If anything I would have welcomed more detail on some of the groups which became key as the plot progressed. The world that the author created captured my interest and imagination. I am left wondering how the society functioned prior to the initial time frame described in this book, something that is touched on only briefly. I wonder why they evolved as they did, what purpose they served.

I felt ambivalence over the denouement. The lack of satisfactory explanation detracted from the potential for plausibility. I wanted to know how the apparent contradiction could have happened. The whole tale required a leap of faith, but I did not find this an issue due to the details provided which were lacking at the end.

This did not, however, spoil what had gone before. The author has created an intriguing world in which I was happy to immerse myself. The String Diaries is a riveting read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.

Book Review: The Shining

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The Shining, by Stephen King, was my first experience of this prolific author. I do not enjoy being frightened so generally avoid the horror genre in both books and films. However, when the opportunity to read and review what is regarded by some as his first tour de force, I decided that I could benefit from being able to form my own opinion about the work of a writer who, in interviews, has voiced some perceptive thoughts.

The book tells the tale of a young family on a downward spiral. The son has a gift, the Shining, which is presented to the reader in it’s most believable form when described through the eyes of the child. His father is a recovering alcoholic with a vicious temper whilst his mother fights her own childhood demons. Her character is less rounded for much of the story but, by the end of the book, has been developed enough to allow her to play her part convincingly. Both parents have been victims of childhood abuse and the scars affect much of what they do.

At the beginning of the book the father has lost his teaching job and, as a result, the family is in financial straits. To tide them over he agrees to become winter caretaker of a large hotel in the mountains which will be cut off by heavy snow for many months. Naturally the hotel is haunted, although it’s true power is only revealed slowly to the reader as the story progresses. The build up of tension is masterfully done and I can see why so many of King’s books have been adapted for the big screen.

It is also easy to see why this author is a best seller. The book is a page turner, easy to read with a good balance of taut plot and character development. Nothing is overdone and the elements of horror are imaginatively crafted. In the book’s blurb King is described as a master storyteller and I would not quibble with this title.

There was something about his style of writing though that just didn’t do it for me. I could appreciate the clever ways in which the back story was introduced; the varied cast of characters each added something to the tale and were believable; the settings were well described and the hotel in particular was presented to the reader in enough detail to make them feel that they were alongside the family, wanting to shout out ‘don’t go there!’ when advice was ignored and key rooms explored.

The book was clever, slick and well written, yet still I felt a lack of something. It almost felt too text book, as if the author knew how to write a best seller and did just that. It was not formulaic in the way so many popular books can appear, but for all the tension and development it did not touch me emotionally.

Having said all of that, I am still glad that I read it. It was enjoyable and entertaining which is as much as many readers will look for in a book. It was also rather scary. I doubt that I will feel comfortable around topiary animals ever again.

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My copy of this book was provided by Goodreads and the publisher as part of a First Reads giveaway.