Sunday, 6 April 2014

Review: 'The String Diaries' by Stephen Lloyd Jones

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A jumble of entries, written in different hands, different languages, and different times. They tell of a rumour. A shadow. A killer.

The only interest that Oxford Professor Charles Meredith has in the diaries is as a record of Hungarian folklore ... until he comes face to face with a myth.

For Hannah Wilde, the diaries are a survival guide that taught her the three rules she lives by: verify everyone, trust no one, and if in any doubt, run.

But Hannah knows that if her daughter is ever going to be safe, she will have to stop running and face the terror that has hunted her family for five generations.  And nothing in the diaries can prepare her for that.


When this came out and the glowing reviews started appearing everywhere, I almost bought a hardback copy.  That's how much I wanted to read it.  I didn't quite get round to doing that and now?  I'm a little bit glad.  I enjoyed the vast majority of The String Diaries but there was something...missing that stopped me from loving it.

The book starts by dropping right in on the action, with Hannah and her husband and daughter on the run from whatever is trying to kill them all.  It's a strong pace that never really lets up so this is a good one to get stuck into if you want to get well and truly caught up in some drama.  In short, Hannah is on the run from Jakab, a shapechanging bundle of malevolence whose only purpose in life is wreaking violent havoc on Hannah's family.  A member of the ancient Hungarian Hosszu Eletek, Jakab can shift his shape to look and sound like anybody he wants and has centuries of experience of blending in amongst friends and family to home in on his victims.  It and he is genuinely creepy and weaves tension through even the more mundane conversations.  The idea of 'validating' friends and family and exchanging secrets to trade when under pressure works well, even if it is a little overdone by the end.

The Hungarian mythological feel is distinctive and there's something quite nice about reading a standalone fantasy novel.  For a book that barely tops 400 pages, there's a surprising amount of depth too.  It was refreshing to read about a culture and history that was based on Eastern European tradition but I think more could have been made out of it - I wanted more of the medieval-esque social rituals and history and more about what the shapechangers's history and what they could do.  The age-old dispute that the story is based on draws on some clever ideas and manages to throw up plenty of action (some of it quite horrific) but the modern thread is less unique.  Not that it isn't engaging (because it is) but it doesn't have the charm that the historic plot does and I would have liked more of the back story and less of the scrambling present day.  That's more my personal preference (and maybe a hangover from generally loving historical fiction and fantasy with books' worth of background) than a criticism, though.

But then came the ending.  If the book had stopped after what I thought was the ending, I'd have given this a solid four stars but I was really disappointed that a wonderful ending was diluted to something that was, quite frankly, tepid.  The bulk of the story doesn't shy away from some more traumatic turns and I like it when an author is brave enough to kill people off.  This story was relying heavily on a pervasive sense of danger that just wouldn't have worked without a few darker moments.  I don't want to spoil anything so I'll stop grumbling but things fell flat for me.  And those of you that aren't epilogue fans will not be converted by The String Diaries'.  Naff.

Overall:  If you're looking for a relatively quick, action-packed fantasy hit, The String Diaries could be right up your street.  It's a bit of a mixed bag but it's a good, definitely adult novel.  If you're used to ingesting your fantasy in series form, you might find it a little bit lacking in character development but you could do worse if you fancy a break from frustrating cliff-hanger endings.

Date finished: 15 February 2014
Format: eBook
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley - thanks, Headline!
Genre: Fantasy fiction
Pictured edition published:  by Headline in July 2013

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

March 2014, You passed me by

Phewf!  What a month.  I know that all of us seem to feel the months flying by but I honestly couldn't tell you what happened to March.  I've barely read a thing and I've barely had time to spare a thought for the blogging that I've not been doing.  I left my previous job because I wanted more challenging work and wow have I got it.  I'm unbelievably busy and I love how much I'm learning and the experiences I'm getting.   But that doesn't mean that I'm not missing reading and talking about reading, because I am.  During one particularly cranky evening, I even contemplated just throwing it all in and resigning myself to the loss of my little space on the internet.  And then I got an email about the upcoming, wonderful releases from Gollancz and realised that I was being ridiculous.  So here we are!  Still quiet for the foreseeable future I expect but still here.

The Reading

I can sum up my reading from this month in one sentiment: why am I still reading Tess of the D'Urbevilles?!  I don't hate it but it's not exactly a relaxing read and my efforts to read something alongside it just resulted in me reading something else for a while.  To be fair, it was Running Like A Girl and I loved it so it was tricky to put that aside for Hardy.  I had planned on powering through the end of Tess over the weekend but I was out on Friday night and Saturday night and creating a vegetable patch in our back garden with Boyfriend on Sunday so that didn't quite happen.

I almost don't want to type the numbers...

Books read:  1 and a half...

Pages read:  I'm not sure, to be honest - 240 pages of Running Like A Girl and maybe 200 of Tess?

Audiobooks listened to:  1 and 2 halves (of different books, hence not "2")

Reviewed in March
(Images link to reviews)


And that's about it for March.  Hello, spring! May you contain many more books!