Thursday 3 September 2015

Book Review: Catriona Ward – 'Rawblood'


The début novel from Catriona Ward is a trip into bleak gothic horror. Set between two timelines the book focuses on the sad and haunting tale of the cursed Villarcas family through the eyes of the teenage daughter and end of the family bloodline Iris Villacras while intersected by different points of view from the past. It is an excellent example of modern gothic fiction that owes a great deal to books such as 'The Woman In Black', 'Wuthering Heights', 'Frankenstein', and 'The Turn Of The Screw'. It is an enticing plot, heavy on mystery and suspense that urges you to turn the page.

The book ticks all the right boxes for a gothic horror novel – a strong naïve heroine. A sinister family secret, mad science, forbidden romance, a supernatural presence in an old house within a bleak and isolated, and locals fearful of the noble family. It may be using standard conventions of the genre, however it doesn't come across as derivative or conceited at any point. Instead Ward weaves them into a compelling plot that will genuinely have you guessing and in a few places will shock you.

The language used throughout feels authentic and avoids falling into the traps of anachronistic phrases and clichés. The characters voices evoke the archetypes of gothic horror – such as the dry and god fearing scientist, Charles Danforth. The passionate and emotional heroine Iris Vilarcas. As well as the tortured Villarcas patriarchs. There is a poetic flow to the prose and it is rich with detailed descriptions that bring small details under the glare of scrutiny and roots the image of Rawood and its inhabitants into your imagination.

The one major issue with the novel is the pacing. It is heavily descriptive, very accurate in its use of language, and has multiple first-person narratives intersecting throughout the text. And for the most part Ward handles these well and keeps the text interesting. But the shifts in perspective and narratives does regularly derail the momentum being built up in the preceding sections. Ward does always recover but her constant attempts at mixing up the timeline of the story does become a source of frustration despite some genuinely inspired passages.

On the whole though the novel is well written with wonderful and visceral details with a intense and gripping plot that blurs the line between the supernatural and the psychological in a way that keeps you interested until the end. It is a strong first novel and one that fans of both classic and modern gothic fiction will be able to get into with ease. 'Rawblood' utilises all the expected conventions of the genre but remains an original and compelling read that promises a lot more to come from Catriona Ward in the future.  

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