The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

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The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Magic merges with a tenacious stalker as Revelation Maskelyne fights for the survival of herself and her children. It may wander a bit in the middle but the meandering is book-ended with enough thrilling tension to make this a highly promising first-in-series.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: October 2014
Publisher: Century
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1780891460

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Revelation (Reve) Maskelyne is the latest of a long line of girls named Revelations in the Sears family. This has a significance she's unaware of as she divides her time between a happy marriage, parenthood and sharing the limelight with her husband Jeremy as illusionist team The Amazing Maskelynes. Until the day she kills Jeremy… The tragic event triggers the realisation that someone has been stalking Reve for most of her life. For the protection of her 15-year-old twins and 10-year-old daughter, Reve runs to Hawley Five Corners, a large New England estate that's been in the family for centuries. Reve has always known that not all magic is illusion but now she has to rely on that.

Chrysler Szarlan has always been aware of the magic-tinged history of her native New England. Rumours of witchcraft and actual witch hunts form a prominent part of the state's past. Therefore as she began to write a novel about a mother trying to protect her children, it's not surprising that the supernatural seeped in. The result is a first in series that appears (from the book blurb) to be riding on the coat tails of Deborah Harkness: the search for a magical book with powers etc. However, The Book of the Dead is totally different and perhaps has more in common with the stalker and edge of the seat sensation from The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones.

Reve has our sympathy from the beginning. We start off empathising with this grieving mother and developing curiosity as to who the stalker is and why. However as the threats become scarier and we see what they're capable of the 'who' and 'why' questions become more urgent. Chrysler accommodates our curiosity in some fascinating vignettes from Reve's past allowing us to start piecing together the answers. I guessed one of the malevolent elements early on but that doesn’t detract as Chrysler is a clever writer.

Alongside moments that would be fantasy/horror clichés anywhere else, (e.g. don't go into the woods!) there's some highly original stuff distracting us from any thought of standard issue scenario. Caleigh (the youngest daughter) raises the children's game of cat's cradles to a highly sinister level. Meanwhile Reve's Nan's connection with falconry is something I think we'll see more of. As for the Hawley Book of the Dead itself, we've only skirted the edges of its secrets by the end of the novel. This doesn't prevent it from being a character in itself though, promoting its own spooky atmosphere in the moments between the stalker's appearances.

While we're talking powers and spook, all the women in Reve's family have a power apart from twins Grace and Fai. Personally these twins irritated me much (due to their personalities rather than the writing) and so I don't think they deserve powers but I have a feeling it's a case of watch this space.

I must admit to a couple of minor niggles that pulled it short of the full 5*. I have my doubts whether someone as besotted with a late husband would encourage a romantic interest so soon; that didn't feel that authentic. (I know – we're deep in the realms of magical powers and I'm seeking authenticity?! Love has to feel right though, whatever the genre it settles in.) Also there are lulls in momentum in the middle. There are moments and conversations during which I found myself become fidgety and itching to move on. However, the pluses more than outweigh the meagre minuses, hooking me from that amazing first 'Pardon??' sentence onwards.

Thank you, Century, for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: Having mentioned two of the most superlative books in recent years, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend them. Therefore please, please spend some time with A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (the whole series in fact) and [[The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones].]

Buy The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan at Amazon.com.

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