You know this story. You’ve read this cliche before. A not-so-well-off photography professor Rachel Daly* meets an extremely wealthy man several years her senior. David Kerthen** is widowed; his wife Nina died in one of the mines on his thousand-year-old family property. He now lives with his eight year old son Jamie***. Rachel falls in love with David (of course) and even more so with his pale-faced, raven-haired son. Following a whirlwind romance, the two marry and Rachel leaves her poverty-stricken London life behind (to the envy of her friends) and moves to the Carnhallow House with David.
The Kerthens are an old family, who owe their wealth to their luck with the mines in the area. They were cruel, and did not care about those who lost their lives in the mines.
Caught in the memories of an old world is David’s mother Juliet. Through her, Rachel learns of the legend of the fire children. Soon after, Rachel’s stepson Jamie begins to act strange. He’s convinced that he’s a fire child and that his mother is coming back. Rachel herself begins to feel Nina is in the house – she can sense her presence, see her, smell her perfume, hear her voice, and what not.
*Has sad eyes
**Is a “‘broken’, womanizing lawyer”, who’s interestingly very much devoted to his first wife (no sign of any womanizing) and is very inarticulate for a lawyer.
***Kid can’t spell “write” but can spell “dinosaur”
The beginning of the story felt a lot like Rebecca to me. In fact, there’s this line in one of the chapters “Last night he’d [David] dreamt of Carnhallow again.” which, I know I’m probably looking for connections here, but it sounded a lot like the opening sentence of Rebecca to me. But that feeling quickly passes.
At the outset, let me mention, this is not a bad story. On the whole. But it’s been executed poorly (“poorly” being the kindest word I can think of right now). For one, it drags on and on and on and then leads to a laughably rushed ending. Why does it drag on? Because every third paragraph is a description of the sun and the sea and the mines (or, in the latter part, the snow and the sea and the mines) At one point, a character goes on to describe in detail the view from a supermarket. Just… why? We get it, it’s lovely, move on. Repetitions aside, there are these annoying inconsistencies throughout the book. I may sound nitpicky, but on one page Rachel tells us she does not tan, but she describes her “tanning shoulders” a few pages later. Minor detail, yes, but such things rub me the wrong way.
Everyone in this book is an overthinker and an overreactor. Either I’m missing chunks of the story, or these people are plain crazy. They go from state A to conclusion Z without analyzing (or at least merely considering) B to Y in between. For example, when Juliet describes the legend of the fire children, Rachel reads a lot into it and acts terrified. I went back to Juliet’s line a few times to check what I missed. Why did I feel Rachel’s reaction was unwarranted? Similarly, on what basis did David hire a detective to get details of his wife’s past? What convinced him she was hiding something? And here’s another inconsistency – he tells her to go through Nina’s old notes to restore the house, but when she does so, he’s convinced she’s snooping and trying to get him into trouble. So much goes unexplained, and yet we’re given such unnecessary detail about the bloody sunshine, FFS!
(Oh, by the way, the detective’s report adds even more cliches and stereotypes to this already unoriginal set of characters)
Gonna sound nitpicky again – my copy is an ARC, so I understand this will probably be fixed in the final – but there, were, bloody, commas, everywhere! It got so annoying, pausing where no pause was needed.
Now, why I said this is not a bad book is because there were parts of it that were genuinely spooky – and that’s more than what I can say for the new crop of horror/thriller writers. But nothing ties up properly – the motivations, the backstory, none of it. It is all implausible, and I can’t, for one second, believe the plot in its current form. It’s amateurish to the worst degree. All that foreshadowing (again, done badly) leads to no resolutions and by the end, you have a lot of unanswered questions looking up at you like a bloody hare in your hands.
Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley. This review is honest and unbiased.