Saturday, 22 March 2014
The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones
Hannah Wilde is running, and running is all she has ever known. For centuries her ancestors have been pursued by a dark force, and things are no different now as every day is a struggle to keep herself and her family alive. There's no option but to keep moving from place to place, leaving all her worldly possessions behind apart from one; a battered, string-bound volume of memoirs that have been passed down from generation to generation and trace this evil entity back to its origins in 19th century Hungary.
The String Diaries is a curious blend of historical fiction, folklore, urban fantasy and straightforward white-knuckle thriller. On paper this sounds a bit much and like it might be a bit of a trashy, throwaway read. Fortunately it's really well-written and feels perhaps more intelligent and complex than your average genre fiction.
For fear of spoilers I have spent time deliberating over how much to give away about the exact nature of the supernatural adversaries in the story (the 'hosszú életek') and I have concluded that will be best for potential readers if I keep most of the detail under wraps. But suffice it to say that these are creatures completely unlike any I have read about before - no run of the mill vampires and werewolves to be found here - and I loved the concept behind them and their particular powers. The author has created an entirely convincing mythology and backstory and I was amazed to find out that it doesn't have any roots in real Hungarian tradition. He has considered exactly the way in which the hosszú életek would affect Hannah's life, and illustrated all the ways her family would have to adapt to dealing with them on a day to day basis, which makes the whole thing very compelling and realistic.
I read this book on Kindle and when I saw a hard copy of the book in person shortly afterwards, I was surprised at how chunky it is because I absolutely raced through it. It is really pacy and addictive. I don't remember the last time a book made me so nervy - I was reading it at home alone one evening and every creak, every unexpected tap outside the window made me jump out of my skin, but still I couldn't stop myself from reading.
The String Diaries is a really enjoyable and unique read and one I'd recommend even to those who don't usually enjoy dabbling with the paranormal. Fans of historical fiction or dual time narratives who are looking for something a bit different would do well to give this a go.
I received a copy of this book for review via Netgalley courtesy of the kind team at Mulholland Books. Thank you!