Thanks to Net Galley and to Australian eBook Publisher (the author?) for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I voluntarily choose to review.
As I do sometimes I checked some of the reviews of this book and I found that most people were really positive, and, interestingly, people who didn’t like it gave as reasons some of the same ones that made others like it. We all know nothing rules over personal taste.
The story, that it’s not straightforward to categorise (it has elements of thriller, of historical novel, of horror story with paranormal elements, even with religious undertones), is told in an interesting way. The story we start reading, after a brief prologue that hints at things to come, of Siobhan, a young woman who is given her mother’s Bible and a strange message after finding out she hanged herself in Spain, frames the main story, the confession by Siobhan’s mother, Denise. Siobhan follows her mother’s instructions and soon realises that many people seem invested in keeping hidden the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. For much of the book, Siobhan is just a stand-in for the reader, who gets hooked on the book her mother has left her as an explanation of what happened, and as we later learn, as a way of recruiting her into her mission. Siobhan experiences similar emotions to the readers, at times thinking the story is not possible, that her mother must have been unwell while at the same time finding it impossible to stop reading, in her case even when she’s in serious danger.
Denise’s confession is fascinating. What starts as the story of a single mother quickly turns into a thriller, where Denise is the victim of a conspiracy and with some paranormal help (yes, the devil of the title comes to the rescue, of course at a price) manages to get even. This part of the story, of greed, jealousy and friendship gone sour would make an interesting novel in its own right, although there are details that require some suspension of disbelief. The story eventually takes a moral turn and things get more bizarre (yes, even with the devil already on the scene). The nature of Denise’s family life comes into question and she has no option but to leave her loved ones without a word of explanation. She is recruited for a mission and as part of that we are introduced to a number of religious texts and historical facts of the XIII century that show a good research used in a very compelling way (although some readers did not enjoy it so much, but I’m sure others who love books such as The Da Vinci Code would appreciate it).
The writing is fluid and compelling, with some descriptive passages and some that offer moral lessons (especially about the role humanity has in destroying our environment, and about the cost of our wishes and desires, exemplifying the fact that actions have consequences) and a deep understanding of the texts and the religious questions discussed, without becoming preachy. At some points, especially when describing the texts, there is more telling than showing, but that can’t be avoided (and considering that according to the blurb, the author turned one of his scripts into a novel, it’s very well resolved). I’ve read some people who found the repeated used of long names (of monasteries and convents in particular) tiresome, although in my case, as a few of them were Spanish like me, I didn’t have much of an issue with it.
The story of Denise is completed within the book, but it ends up at the point when Siobhan goes back home and has to decide what she will do from now on. So there is some sort of resolution, but we are left at the beginning of another story.
Denise is an understandable and totally human character, who makes mistakes, who sometimes is confused about her emotions, who wants to believe the best of people but is sorely betrayed. She is faced with terrible decisions and if one tries to put oneself in her shoes, is not easy to know what one would do. Does one really always have to choose between two loves? Perhaps. We don’t have much chance to get to know Siobhan, other than as an ersatz reader and a girl who, like her mother, will pursue the truth even at the cost of her own safety. I hope we’ll be given a chance to get to know her better soon.
I enjoyed the book, both the intriguing and gripping story, and also the background of history and the fascinating documents described. I didn’t find it scary but it is a book that makes one think about one’s decisions, about the world and about what we would be prepared to sacrifice for those we love. And it’s impossible to put down.