This book is full of dreams and madness.
That sounds like it could be great, doesn’t it?
Well … no.
A common piece of advice for aspiring writers is “never start a book with a character’s dream”. And Lauren A. Forry didn’t. However, after a little while it seemed as though every other chapter began with a dream. Another fairly common piece advice for everyone is “your dreams are always much more interesting to you than to anyone else in the world”. By the third or fourth time a chapter opened in the middle of Eliza’s nightmare, I rolled my eyes. By the fifth or sixth time I was frankly disgusted. This was another time I was constantly on the verge of quitting, but kept reading because I wanted to know how it all would be wrapped up.
Someday I’ll learn that it usually isn’t really worth it.
The other part of my first line, madness, was something else that started to inspire disgust by the time I got through the book. By the end this book was starting to look like a DSM-5, a psychiatric diagnosis guide. I’m sure I’ve used the comparison to salt before in a review: some is good, and more is never better. This was just all much too much.
The other reason I kept going was that the writing had some merit. The gradual – very gradual – revelation of what happened to Eliza’s family, and the unspooling of how Abigale Hall got to be the place of horror as described in the book was handled well, for the most part.
But characterization was not terribly strong – Eliza’s love, Peter, was a bit like a paper doll being moved through the plot, and the bad guys were straight out of central casting for any 60’s gothic. And the madness lapping at just about everyone’s knees and splashing about on all the walls and ceilings left lots of questions throughout as to who was trustworthy and who was not. Done well, of course, this sort of uncertainty adds to the atmosphere of a creepy gothic novel. Not done well, it can cause whiplash.
And in the end the pain and aberrant behavior and horror – and dreams and madness – proliferated to the point that it became rather pointless, and … I’m tempted to use the phrase “torture porn”, especially since a great deal of the aberrant behavior and horror is focused around a young girl. After chapter upon chapter of oh no she’s not – oh, she did, I became jaded, until the big climax of the story landed with a blood-soaked thud. It was like the most brutal five episodes of Criminal Minds in which children are involved, the ones I will never ever watch again, balled together and distilled down to take out the enjoyable character moments. And I found the ending completely unsatisfying, and not something that justified ploughing through the whole book.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.