Review

Review: The String Diaries (The String Diaries #1) by Stephen Lloyd Jones

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

A quotation on the cover of this book claims that it is too terrifying to read late into the night. Now I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror films and television, or even video games, but not normally books. With books, you can imagine scenarios exactly how you want to.

That technique did not work with The String Diaries.

It’s been a long while since a book seriously creeped me out. This got to the point that I had to stop reading it for several days whilst my flatmate was away, because I couldn’t read it in the evening knowing that I would be alone in the flat that night. It was that bad. The idea of Jakab, the antagonist, being able to take on the appearance of anyone at all, replacing the lives of Hannah’s friends, relatives, neighbours, her closest loved ones, without her knowing, was truly terrifying. Give me monsters, demons, whatever – human beings are the scary ones.

The String Diaries is set in various locations, across several generations. From present day Wales and France, to 1970s Oxford (these chapters mentioned my workplace, so I heartily approved!), to nineteenth century Hungary, the story weaves its way through the lives of one family and how one man has hunted them over the generations. Initially, I did not enjoy the chapters set in Hungary as much, but as they built up Jakab to be this terrifying character and demonstrated just what he was prepared to do, I found myself more and more enthralled. And despite spanning several generations and countries, the book felt almost claustrophobic to me, as if I were the one trapped in a cabin on a Welsh mountainside, rather than Hannah.

I enjoyed The String Diaries a lot more than I expected – and I also did not expect to feel that terrified by it! To me that shows that Stephen Lloyd Jones is a great writer, although the ending of the story felt a little like a deus ex, and left me unsure as to how the series could progress. However, I would definitely recommend this one if you’re looking for something scary, or something that incorporates folklore.

Review

Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve received quite a few books from the wonderful Hodderscape recently, and I’m working my way through the pile. I started off with this particular book – and what a way to start!

The reader is immediately thrown into the action, with a scene where one of the two protagonists, Wil, is at the airport and gets waylaid by two strange men. They drug him, and he manages to make a run for it, but his sense of confusion and the frantic feeling of needing to get away now is so well conveyed. It doesn’t hold back on the swearing or coarse language, and you know from the get-go that these guys mean business. I found myself whizzing through the pages, needing to know what their motive was, and why they were targeting Wil in particular.

Well as it turns out, words are power. People who are trained in the use of words are known as ‘Poets’ (they use pseudonyms when working, the names of famous poets), and can use them to convince, coerce and control others. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds though: any old words won’t work on everyone. As well as digging into linguistics, the book explores psychology, in that everyone’s personality represents a different ‘segment’, of which there are over two hundred. To control someone, you need to work out which segment they are, and then use the appropriate words. And on top of this, the words need to be of their language to have the greatest effect, e.g. using English words on a French person would not be as successful as using French. However, there are a few words, know as ‘barewords’, which can affect anyone, and they are also incredibly powerful. Wil has a link to one of these ‘barewords’, which is why he is being hunted. I liked that Max Barry included all of these rules, it meant that although Poets had great power, there was some sort of restraint.

There is also a bit of a 1984 vibe in the book: the government and many companies record personal information (lots of excuses are given for reasons why they need to record various personal things e.g. terrorist attacks), which is then processed by Poets, allowing them to sort the population into segments. The information is then used (or rather, abused) by lots of people, including political parties who may go canvassing, and change their stance depending on who they are talking to. Most of this information was revealed in between chapters, through newspaper articles, emails, IM chats and forums. It felt a little set back from the main story, sort of added in to keep the reader informed. It was nice to have this background information, but I felt it might have worked a little better if it was somehow more integrated into the story.

My favourite chapters of the book were the ones that followed Emily. When the reader first meets her, she is a sixteen year old runaway, living on the streets and getting by on card and slight of hand tricks. She is approached by someone from the ‘Academy’ (the school where the Poets are trained) and is given a chance to improve her life. One of the entrance tests for the Academy includes trying to persuade people in the street to cross the road and talk to her – this was possibly one of my favourite scenes, just for its sense of humour, although one of Emily’s ‘methods’ seemed a bit ludicrous for a sixteen year old! I particularly enjoyed her chapters because they were generally the ones where the power of words was explored; as Emily learnt about the Poets and their power, so did the reader.

I’m not sure if it wasn’t too clear to begin with, or if I was just being slow on the uptake, but the stories of Wil and Emily are actually on two slightly different timelines. I was unsure at how they were going to weave together, but as I read more of the book the cogs started fitting into place and I loved trying to predict what was going to happen next.

I am so grateful that I was sent this book – I’d not heard of it before I received it, and I’ve not seen it on many other blogs or Goodreads, so it might have missed my attention otherwise! It is a wonderfully unique concept, and although some parts of the story (mostly Wil’s) were a little too slow moving, I devoured it in a matter of days. A definite recommendation for fans of cerebral thrillers, or people interested in linguistics and psychology.