Tag Archives: book reviews

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, a review

“Rhen,” she calls after me.
I pause in the doorway and face her.
“I’m not going to fall in love with you,” she says.
Her words are not a surprise. I sigh.
“You won’t be the first.”


A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Prince Rhen of Emberfall has been eighteen for over three hundred seasons. Cursed by a sorceress to repeat the Autumn of his eighteenth year until he manages to convince a woman to fall in love with him, Rhen sees the curse as a game at first. But at the end of the first season Rhen begins to turn into a monster, and as he does, he forgets who he is. As a beast, he has no control, and murders his entire family, before coming back to himself for the final hour of the season to see the havoc he has wreaked. For three hundred seasons he has turned into a beast, his murderous rampages decimating his kingdom leaving his guard Grey as his only company. And his memory of each season never fades. In his final season, Rhen is ready to accept that he will turn into a monster forever, until Grey is attacked by a young woman who witnesses his attempt to kidnap Rhen’s latest conquest, and he accidentally brings her to Emberfall instead…

On the surface, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer is hugely problematic. How could it not be when the obvious slap slap kiss love story at the heart of it centres on a handsome prince who with the assistance of his trusty guard kidnaps hundreds of women to use in an attempt to break a curse each season. Details are hazy on what happens to the women (selected for being what the agents of Criminal Minds would call high risk, no family, no support network, no one to miss them when they’ve gone…) when the season is over. Rhen says they return to their world, but it also sounds like he ate a few of them in monster form, so it looks like a few of them at least are now forever Emberfall as it were.

So yes, a romantic fantasy which starts with two men kidnapping a young woman and keeping her locked up in a castle should set alarm bells ringing, and neon signs flashing problematic, but I actually really enjoyed reading Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

By bringing the reader in towards the very end of the curse skips over the worst excesses of Rhen’s former character that the novel hints at and lets us see him at his most vulnerable. He’s lost everything, and despite his own morbid curiosity about the limits of his curse (he’s tried to end his own life several times, and tried to persuade his Guardsman, Grey to behead him) he’s resigned to his fate, a broken man who is now only concerned about his citizens and owning his failure… And then there’s Harper.

Harper is to A Curse So Dark and Lonely as Clare Randall/Fraser is to the Outlander novels. An intelligent, loyal and empathetic heroine who acts rashly but always with the best intentions. A teenaged girl living in poverty in Washington D.C., she accidentally makes the trip to Emberfall when she sees Grey attempting to kidnap a young woman outside a nightclub, and barely hesitates to rush in and attack him with a tyre iron despite that being even more challenging for Harper than the average woman, because Harper has mild cerebral palsy that affects her balance and movement in one leg.

I haven’t lived with cerebral palsy personally, but I have taught students with mild CP, and I found the portrayal of Harper really refreshing. Finally, a heroine in a YA novel with a named disability that places realistic boundaries on her physical capabilities who isn’t portrayed as a burden, a damsel in distress or in need of fixing. She might take the role of the warrior woman, learning to throw knives and shoot a bow, but what sets her apart is her empathy and fierce intelligence. She’s easily the equal of her kidnappers, and while she doubts she will ever fall in love with Rhen and break the curse, her strong sense of social justice allows her to see that there are plenty of ways he can still help the Kingdom of Emberfall in the meantime.

Part of the reason that the highly problematic kidnapper/captive love story doesn’t become as problematic as it could is the dynamic between Rhen, Grey and Harper. Rhen is an overthinker, always calculating with the need to feel twenty steps ahead of any scenario, Harper is rash and impulsive, Grey acts as the balance between them, and in a move that has shades of Outlander again, teaches Harper to defend herself with a dagger when she tries to attack him. Both young men treat Harper with the utmost respect at all times, almost to the point of deference, and this leads Rhen to quickly drop any pretence of seduction and be honest about his plight.

It was good to see a YA novel where a relationship grows out of total honesty, though despite Kemmerer’s best efforts, I have to admit I struggled to feel much empathy for the Rhen, I found his character fairly brittle even when the ultimate Big Bad, sorceress and magesmith Lilith was brought out to torment him (in fairness it’s hard to blame someone for wanting revenge on a man whose family were responsible for the genocide of her people). In comparison to Rhen, Harper and Grey were far more interesting characters to read about, even though the novel is narrated from Harper and Rhen’s points of view, and I suspect that Kemmerer may have enjoyed writing them more too.

There’s a lot going on in A Curse So Dark and Lonely – deeply troubled families, dying parents, broken kingdoms, debt, bad choices, the weight of the crown and the responsibility that comes with it, but Brigid Kemmerer has woven it all together beautifully in a fantasy novel that does the hard work for you and doesn’t shy away from embracing its characters vulnerabilities.

The Friendship Cure by Kate Leaver

The Friendship Cure by Kate Leaver, a confusingly packaged but interesting read on the role of friendship in the modern world

They used to say that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but modern publishing relies on shelf appeal -be that in a physical or online shop- an invests so heavily in cover designs that generally you can do just that. For bigger releases, editorial, marketing, design and sales will all pitch in about the final cover and title of a book to make sure that it’s discoverable to the readers who are likely to be looking for it. They want you to know what to expect.

With that said, it’s rare these days to pick up a book and find that it’s been somehow mispackaged. The Friendship Cure: Reconnecting in the Modern World by Kate Leaver positively screams self-help book, from the title, to the subtitle, to the girly pink and purple crushed tablet of glitter which has bled into the font. But wait, why is the endorsement on the cover calling the author the new Jon Ronson?

The Friendship Cure by Kate Leaver, despite its confusing title, isn’t a self-help book at all, but a treatise on friendship in the digital age. Touching on a wide range of friendship related topics, it draws on social psychology, anthropology and a healthy dose of personal experience and annecdote to explore why most people’s social networks hover around the 150 mark, looking at different categories of friendship like the Bromance, The Work Wife, The Toxic Friend, The Virtual Friend and Friends with Benefits to resulting in an enjoyable exposition on why friendships matter as much as ever in our disconnected world.

Leaver has serious experience as a journalist, and the book tackles head on the hugely topical issue of the loneliness pandemic, and I’d say it does it very well. The writing at times leaned towards excessive self-deprecation, and there were a few sweeping generalisations in the chapter on whether men and women can ever just be friends which seemed to lend more than a little credence to the films of Nora Ephron, but I enjoyed reading this and found it informative. A solid book.

All the while I was reading it though, I couldn’t help but thinking that if this was a male journalist writing about the importance of friendship, reflecting on his own experience of friendship with men and women and how that had shaped his sense of self, the publishers wouldn’t have gone full throttle on the heavily gendered packaging. The non-fiction market is going from strength to strength in the UK, and it would be nice to see women’s writing being given the same consideration as men’s when publishers are thinking about how they promote books to readers.

We do tend to judge books by their covers after all.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

“A dreamer,” scorns her mother.

“A dreamer,” mourns her father.

“A dreamer,” warns Estele.

Still, it does not seem such a bad word.”

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

I’m enjoying books that takes the thought experiments that you turn around in your head when you can’t sleep and renders them magnificent at the moment. Like Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library exploring a world in which you could erase past regrets, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab explores some of those most human of what ifs, what if you could live a life without responsibility? What if you could life as long as you wanted? What if you could be truly loved? What would you give to make these dreams come true? And what else would you be giving without realising?

In 1700s France, Addie LaRue is about to be forced into a life she doesn’t want, pushed into marriage with a widower to become a replacement mother to his three young children, she runs from the church and makes a Faustian pact with a man who might be the darkness, might be the devil, but agrees to give her an unlimited amount of time in exchange for her soul when she doesn’t want it anymore.

But pacts with old god, devils and the darkness are rarely as straightforward as the human making the deal might hope, and Addie soon realises that she’s traded her soul for a curse. She has unlimited time, but no one remembers her, and no one can remember her. She’s forced to walk the world alone, never able to settle or find security, with the darkness stalking at her heels waiting for her to yield. For nearly three hundred years she’s totally almost totally alone, lovers forgetting who she is when they wake in the morning, or a door closes between them until one day, a man in a book shop, with a secret of his own, remembers her.

I’m going to put it out there now that I wish that Addie LaRue was as forgettable as in the book – because then I could read it again for the first time. I don’t often re-read books but with this one I’m tempted. I love the concept, the characters, the writing, the dialogue… I haven’t read any of V.E. Schwab’s other books but after reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, I’m tempted. It will be my go to birthday present for so many people this year who I think would love it to.

I’m going to add some more specific thoughts and spoilers about the content below….

Ah sympathy for the devil. I know, I know, Luc is a complete bastard in many ways but I do feel sorry for him gradually falling for Addie, trying to hold back on the tormenting her, telling her he loves her only to have it thrown back in his face. Given that he’s the devil, the darkness, one of the malevolent old gods, it can’t come as a surprise that he’d want to twist the knife with a Henry shaped trap.

I’ve seen reviews which didn’t buy the Henry/Addie love story but I completely did. Because there are so many different types of love and I think that Addie’s love for Henry is much more about herself than him. It’s less a selfless love, than a need he fulfils. There’s obviously the physical attraction – at first she thinks he’s Luc who has based his own appearance on Addie’s ideal man, and joked about how many of her lovers look like him, she has a type, but also there’s the other needs that he fulfils. He’s the first person who can remember her in three hundred years, he can say her name, he can write her story and she goes for men and women who can leave a mark for her, and this one isn’t allusions in a song, freckles in a painting but her story explicitly spelled out on paper. He also reminds her so much of herself before she was cursed, the fear of time running out, of never being able to do enough, that speaks to her. She relishes his company, the experienced of being remembered, of building a story together…. But I would argue that in the story V.E. Schwab has written, it doesn’t really matter if Addie LaRue loves Henry Strauss, she certainly isn’t sure, even before she realises the full nature of his curse, whether she loves him. She wants to, but she doesn’t wholly believe that she does.

“And then he whispers three words into her hair. “I love you,” he says, and Addie wonders if this is love, this gentle thing. If it is meant to be this soft, this kind. The difference between heat, and warmth. Passion, and contentment. “I love you too,” she says. She wants it to be true.”

To some extent, Addie realises that her love for Henry is like Luc’s love for Addie – they are in love with the only person who knows them. She as much as acknowledges this to herself as she and Henry drive away for the time away by themselves as he runs out of time and Henry asks her if she would have made the same deal again, when she weights up what she’s gained and what she’s lost “She fell in love with the darkness many times, fell in love with a human once.”

So for me, how sincerely we believe in Addie and Henry’s love, the type of love, the depth of it is irrelevant, because to all intents and purposes, the whole relationship is another part of the twisted game that Addie and Luc are playing with each other, with shades of Cathy and Heathcliff, how much can you hurt the person you know you really love? Luc has deliberately set Henry’s curse in motion for him to stumble into the path of Addie, remember her, and for their relationship to grow with the full intention of his big reveal to Addie that surprise, I was always behind it in the dark, twisting the knife, looking for a new way to break you. But for centuries, Addie has revelled in the game of finding the cracks in the curse, of beating Luc at his own game, leaving her mark despite him, to spite him. Henry’s just another extension of this and becomes her trump card in the game she’s been playing against Luc. By apparently submitting to Luc, to free Henry from his curse, she’s setting an example of how she wants Luc to love her by taking her soul out of the deal, and because he believes that she’s chosen him and he’s won he agrees. But by doing this, this allows Henry to survive long enough to publish her story, her name everywhere. A strike against Luc that he doesn’t seem to even be angry about. But then we realise that all of this served a bigger purpose, not only is Addie’s soul now off the table, but the revised deal has provided her with the prospect of the freedom that she’s always truly craved – the terms are now that she will stay by his side as long as he wants her there, and she’s willing to play the twisted love game long term, because never underestimate the hold of a toxic relationship when both parties are determined to win.

“Perhaps it will take twenty years. Perhaps it will take a hundred. But he is not capable of love, and she will prove it. She will ruin him. Ruin his idea of them. She will break his heart, and he will come to hate her once again. She will drive him mad, drive him away. And then, he will cast her off. And she will finally be free.”

So yes, sympathy for the devil, poor Luc has no idea of the hell Addie has in store for him.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

To some extent I’ve been putting off writing about Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. What do you say that the hype surrounding the book hasn’t already said? When if it hasn’t quite won every prize going, it’s certainly been shortlisted for it?

In truth, even though I’d asked my partner to buy me the book for my birthday in December, I’d put off reading it until this month unsure, having lost one of my own twins, how well I’d cope with a novel about another woman losing one of hers, even after six years.

In the end, I needn’t have worried about this. Although Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet is anchored by the death of Shakespeare’s son, exploring the family’s grief in the aftermath of Hamnet’s death, this is a novel about life, not death. Maggie O’Farrell gives life and character to the shadowy family that history has left behind in Stratford. For once, William Shakespeare isn’t named, the Latin’ tutor, the glovemaker’s son, he is the distant figure and the myth is woven instead around his family. Calling it a domestic drama doesn’t do it justice, but it’s undeniable that in Hamnet Maggie O’Farrell’s prose elevates the forgotten incidents of the lives of Elizabethan women to poetry, writing lovingly and with heart about birthing and raising children, about carving out your own destiny in a society which at best will only ever see you as second class.  

It’s a beautiful novel, but as a portrait of a family’s shifting relationships following a bereavement, and a couple struggling to relate to each other in the wake of it, it’s completely breath-taking.

The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon – a review with some theories

“It is a beautiful mask, but all masks fall. In the end.”

The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon

Such were the joys of home schooling and working around the children that I didn’t realise that the fourth book in Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season series The Mask Falling  had published until two months after the release date even though I had been counting down to the release date.

It felt as though I had been waiting for the fourth book forever though it’s all relative, cough cough, Patrick Rothfuss . I’d managed to feed my series addiction with forays into Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season spin off novellas The Pale Dreamer (really good, a pacey and exciting prequel to the series) and The Dawn Chorus (which bridges the events of novels three and four) in the summer but I was looking forward to getting my teeth into what happened to Paige Mahoney after she’d escaped the clutches of Scion in London and headed off to Scion Paris with the enigmatic Arcturus Mesarthim.

I found The Mask Falling quite different to the others in the series, as the first section had a slower build and concentrated quite closely on the relationship between Paige and Arcturus as she was stripped of her usual affiliations and networks in Scion Paris, which I’m sure will be welcome to many but at the same time, albeit necessarily, retrod some ground covered in The Dawn Chorus. The pace builds though, and it isn’t long before Paige is running around Scion Paris, exploring catacombs and subterranean cities, not to mention infiltrating the heart of Scion Paris and running into old friends and acquaintances along the way.

I felt at times as though The Mask Falling lacked the full punch of other books in the series – it had the slightly stretched feel of the classic middle novel in a series that has to fit just so much in that the final books will depend on – but for all that it was a really enjoyable read and I’m now frustratedly wondering when the fifth book will be released because what the hell sort of a cliffhanger was that to end on?! I suspect that the follow up novels will reveal the importance of lots of tiny details from this book.

If you haven’t read the first novel in the series but are interested, you can read my review here.

Spoiler section below for anyone else who has read it and wants to know what I was left wondering about….

Spoilers, Theories and Questions about The Mask Falling

Okay, so we’re into bears now. Paige Mahoney, Cade Fitzours and Emma Orson… the dreamwalkers all have Bear names, and Arcturus apparently means guardian of the bear. Fitz means son, and there’s also the suggestion that Orson is son of the bear…. so are they all descended from a common relative? Is that why the Poltergeist in Senshield (presumably also a dreamwalker since Nashira needs Paige to make Senshield work) marks Paige as kin? And if it’s not too much of a leap, is Arcturus the guardian of the bears because he fought in support of the Mothallath and has never had an issue with the concept of “flesh treachery” guarding the ancestors of a Reph/Human hybrid that has resulted as the result of the previous contact between humans and rephs that caused the waning of the veils? Is that otherness part of what makes Paige’s father call her a changling under torture?

Speaking of her father, what had he left her in his will? Sounds like a possible future plot point.

Paige gets to meet one of Arcturus’ exes when she meets the chained Kornephoros in the basement, and it’s surprising that he lets her go and doesn’t harm her, after she failed to keep her promise and free him. Which makes me wonder which oath is more pressing to him than getting his revenge on Paige? And who let him go? Cade would be the most obvious, but why wouldn’t he have had his head ripped off as promised? Though Cade has presumably been in Arcturus’ head at this point… what happened when he was in his Dreamscape?

Cade/David’s allegiances are still unclear. Why does he attack Paige? Because she’s realised he’s a dreamwalker? If he wanted her gone it would have been easier to get rid of her by in other ways surely, and then why chain her up. He seems to be working with Nashira but didn’t sell Paige out in the first novel, or deliver her to Nashira in this one. And when Paige attacks the Rephs while Arcturus is possessed, she says something along the lines of she called to the aether and something answered. At the same time, she seems Arcturus return to his eyes – did Cade leave Arcturus to help fight off the Rephs? All kinds of confusion around his true intentions.

And speaking about confusing people. Dearie Lord, Jaxon, what to make of you…. An interesting twist in their relationship as it seems that Jaxon is now trying to impress Paige in the ways she used to try and impress him.

And who is Cordier working for? She’s basically saved Paige’s life, but is painted as likely the person who sold out Paige and Arcturus…. And now she’s rocking up in a war zone to chloroform Paige when she was nearby and vulnerable to the Rephs if any had survived the bomb falling.

My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Arcturus is still alive. Provided the Rephs can take aura and aren’t touched by the red poppies when injured, they seem to recover pretty well from most things…. And was it just me or did he seem to know that the bomb was going to be dropped?

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

“The only way to learn is to live” The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Nora Seed has had enough. Ground down by bereavements and break ups, we meet her on what she decides will be the last day of her life, which sees the death of her cat, the loss of her job, and rejection by the friends and family she reaches out to. Reaching rock bottom, she takes an overdose and finds herself waking up in the Midnight Library.

In the Midnight Library, the time is always frozen at midnight. And the miles and miles of shelves contain all the possible lives Nora Seed could have live had her choices been different. If she hadn’t broken up with her fiancé. If she had gone to Australia with her best friend. If she hadn’t quit the band. If she’d kept swimming. If she’d gone for that coffee.

I loved the concept of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I think it’s a thought experiment that everyone has played, if not a fantasy harboured by many, to think what your life might have been like if you’d made a different choice at key points in your life. In some ways, this is a self-book masquerading behind the thin veil of a novel, showing the reader that everyone is more valued than they realise; that their lives have meaning, if not in the way they might have planned as teenagers; that you might find, if you were totally omnipotent, that some of your most nagging regrets are misplaced.

And in The Midnight Library, Matt Haig does that very well. For all that its message is worthy and necessary, the novel is really enjoyable, and I was invested enough to keep reading until I finished the book to find out what ultimately happens to Nora Seed. While there’s an argument that at times Matt Haig has left the plotting a little on display – there’s a lot to set up in the opening chapters to allow Matt Haig to draw out Nora’s possible lives as she explores the Midnight Library later in the novel –  I don’t think that stops the potential of the idea being brilliantly executed.

I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a gentle and ultimately affirming and upbeat read. Novels steeped in positivity and hope are what I need on my TBR list right now.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi lives in the House. He supposes he always has. Only one other person lives in the House, Piranesi calls him The Other as he has never known anyone else in the house, though he has found evidence of other people in the forms of their skeletons and makes a point of tending the fourteen dead. But one day a stranger comes to the house, and the knowledge she brings will turn Piranesi’s world upside down.

Susanna Clarke writes wickedly clever books. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was wickedly clever in skewering the style of a 19th century novel, while creating an epic fantasy. Piranesi, by contrast feels far more restrained, a focused, almost academic novel that defies categorisation – part allegory, part travelogue, part personal philosophy.

For me, Piranesi felt a bit like a refraction of Plato’s Cave allegory through the lens of Robinson Crusoe. Instead of watching shadows on the wall, Piranesi sees the statues of the house which represent lost knowledge that have flowed from our real world. In his Crusoe-esque travelogue, he tries to make sense of his world, his lost past repressed by the amnesia inducing powers of the house, believing that he infers the existence of large numbers of people from the existence of the statues, and marvelling that he can makes sense of the idea of a university without the existence of one in his world, The House.

For all it’s relative brevity, Piranesi is one of those books that I could see would stay with you. It leaves you with so many questions, so many things to find an explanation for. What are we intended to take away from Piranesi’s reverence of the house? Are the birds truly augurs, what does the presence of the albatrosses and their chick mean? Is there an environmental/ecological analogy in Piranesi’s rejection of the quest for the Great Knowledge and appreciation of the house itself? While the other sees the house as Piranesi’s prison and a threat, Piranesi sees it as a sanctuary, a protective force; does the inhabitant project their own character onto the house? Is it in that sense a sort of crucible? And who is the skeleton of the little girl with the necklace?

Have you read it? What did you think?

Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan Review

$R86Z4GI        “ She had discovered us.

This was her way of getting in touch,

     of punishing me”

Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan

Ana Kelly is in love with Connor Mooney. They met at her legal practice when Connor came in to draw up his will and started an affair. One day, shortly after the couple have argued, Ana receives a phone call from Connor’s wife, Rebecca. Unaware of their affair, Rebecca tells her that her husband has died and she needs to organise the legal affairs relating to his estate. Bereft without the man she loved, and unable to share her grief as a result of the affair, she transfers her obsession to the woman who stood between them.

Here is the Beehive is a short novel written in blank verse, narrated from the perspective of Ana Kelly as she struggles to come to terms with her lover’s death. Crossan makes the most of the narrow focus of her narrator, the story, despite its brevity, becoming increasingly complex as Ana’s focus shifts in increments and we learn more about her own circumstances, and the increasingly complex world of her affair. I did wonder if Connor’s wife was named Rebecca as a nod to the Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name.

I thought the book was skillfully written, but I struggled to empathise with the main characters, at times feeling incredibly hostile towards them, a testament to the author’s skill but not a recipe for the most relaxing read! In terms of style, despite the blank verse, I’d say it’s a little bit Sally Rooney’s Normal People, twenty years after university and lacking (for me) the emotional hook and goodwill the characters in Normal People engendered.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling

I had quite a lengthy debate with myself about whether I should buy Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling’s Troubled Blood. Can you separate an artist from their art, especially in the case of JK Rowling whose art is words, and has written an insidious transphobic article as a dogwhistle to the likeminded as she attempts to justify her overtly transphobic tweets.

Working in publishing, I know that there are a lot more people dependent on the sales of a book than an author. The royalties from book purchases probably make minimal difference to the multimillionaire (some say billionaire) Rowling, but for the editors, designers, typesetters at publishers whose salaries are paid by the sales of such books, a major release tanking in the wake of cancel culture could mean redundancies for people who were not involved, who may have been among the Hachette staff who refused to work on her books because of her totally unacceptable views about transmen and transwomen.

Given the context of this furore around JK Rowling’s controversial statements, it didn’t take long for clickbait headlines seemingly flaunting spoilers to announce that Rowling had doubled down on her transphobic views by writing a “cross dressing villain”, Vanity Fair magazine online going so far as to lead with a headline suggesting that it proved Rowling’s commitment to transphobia.

So is Robert Galbraith’s 5th Strike novel Troubled Blood transphobic?

I realise of course that I’m speaking from a position of cis privilege and am not affected by the issues in the same way as someone who identifies as non-binary or trans, but I don’t think that the novel is transphobic in the way that the numerous clickbait headlines would like to imply. The cross-dressing killer they refer to, Dennis Creed, is a sub plot of the novel, an already incarcerated cis male suspect in a cold case, who rather than being transgender, or even actively cross dressing, is noted to have engaged in fetishist theft of clothing, and has posed as a camp gay man to ensure that he appears unthreatening to his victims, in order to win their trust. The novel seems to anticipate the criticisms of real world readers by providing real world comparisons for serial killers who have behaved in this way when Robin compares Creed to Jerry Brudos. Having said this, the novel did contain sections which betrayed a deep underlying fear of non-traditional gender identities assumptions with a passage that refers to a character being “hoodwinked by a careful performance of femininity” which did make me wince, but all in all, I don’t think that these aspects of the novel would have been unremarked upon had it not been for Rowling’s “series of unfortunate tweets”.

The book in itself was an improvement on Lethal White, but still suffers from Galbraith (or Rowling) being too big to be reined in by her editor. The story itself was well executed, but indulged too many diversions in the name of characterisation which diverted from the plot and added little to the story. Robin’s quest for a new perfume, the dinner party Robin’s flatmate holds for Strike, Ilsa’s miscarriage, and the entire bloody Charlotte Ross subplot would have benefitted from a liberal application of red pen to tighten the novel up.

What really gets me with Rowling’s writing, and I suppose there’s an argument that this is an aspect of most genre fiction, but I think Rowling is particularly guilty of this, is that I find that she devotes an excessive amount of time expanding upon the background and psyche of her favoured main characters (honestly, the word count wasted throughout the novel musing on Robin’s bloody perfume choices…) while writing many of the characters as lazy archetypes- the Bengali doctor, the strong black woman, the bitter spinster, the airheaded mockney receptionist… and that brings me to another of my issues with Rowling’s writing- the insistence upon writing in dialect. I’m sure that this is intended to give colour to her writing, but it seems to me that it implies a level of class judgement, at one point Strike tells a working class character that they do a good middle class accent… what the flip is a middle class accent??? Why does Rowling write a Scots accent, or a cockney accent phonetically, when she writes an RP accent, or Robin’s Yorkshire accent in standard English after describing them as such? It seems to me to come back to this idea of the archetype, the Scottish ex-squaddie is written in some kind of mock Scots to flesh out his archetype, and so is the cockney secretary, whereas the characters who are worthy of her attention are worthy of standard English dialect… Maybe you can get away with it in children’s books, but I think it needs to be better executed in an adult’s book.

My feeling is that the books are becoming too invested in drawing out a relationship between Robin and Strike, and less on solving crimes. As such, I’d say there can only really be one book left in the Strike series, two at most before it becomes a parody of the earlier books in the series.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

$R0T9BM0A lot has been written recently about the way in which serial killers are treated like macabre geniuses, while the victims of their crimes are forgotten.

The most famous of these is undoubtedly Jack the Ripper, who having evaded capture has become something of a modern myth, and the Jack the Ripper folklore has spawned a micro-economy which trades on the death of his victims for profit; tours of the Whitechapel scenes of the murders, numerous films and television adaptations, even souvenirs with t-shirts and mugs displaying his victims corpses as if they were artworks created by a master craftsmen, not women who lived and breathed.

In The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, Hallie Rubenhold seeks to go some way towards reclaiming the names of his victims, exploring their histories to restore their identities and humanity. It makes it clear that it doesn’t matter who Jack the Ripper was now, what matters were the complex and varied lives that he snatched. One by one she goes explores the lives of the canonical five victims; Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, from their births to their deaths, revealing far more complex lives than any film or documentary purporting to explore the history of Jack the Ripper has ever revealed.

Rubenhold’s The Five is as fascinating as it is heart-breaking, showing the various factors that brought the women to be living such precarious existences in Whitechapel, and reminding the reader just how precarious life could be in the Victorian era, where an extra mouth to feed could tip a family into poverty, or the loss of a male relative could leave a family of women incredibly vulnerable. Where if you were born into poverty, you had little to no hope of escaping, and even if you were born into the middle classes, one mistake or one small upset would be enough to derail your life.

The Five not only returns a sense of the victims as real people but gives a clear picture of what life was like for women and the poor in the era. I found it a really moving read, and although I enjoy a crime novel as much as anyone else, thought it was an important counter voice to the sensationalism of violence against women for entertainment.