The Death House by Sarah Pinborough is an emotional and dark story. A story that puts the focus on life and death and how people cope when faced with their own mortality.
I won’t deny that this is a difficult review to write and I’ve been mulling it around in my brain some. Firstly, I’m aware that I won’t be able to do the story justice and, secondly, given the nature of the book I don’t want to portray this as really gloomy and put people off. It is undoubtedly a dark book and just a look at the cover alone gives you an idea that it’s going to be somewhat bleak, however, it’s so much more than that.
The story is set in the future although as a reader we find out very little about the time or lifestyle. We really only catch glimpses into the world when Toby takes a trip down memory lane, and these are only snippets designed to give us a small insight into what is going on.
Okay, this is my take (and I have been wrong on occasion). In this particular future it seems that children are given blood tests up to the age of 18. Up to that age, if they’re going to develop a defective gene, it will show up in the blood. After that they’re clear. Not many people seem to have this defect and that would explain why all the children are so relaxed about the regular testing. However, if the defect appears, well, the child is removed, immediately! It’s very odd. What is this defect. Well, I can only think that disease has been almost eradicated, however, maybe sometimes it rears it’s ugly head and it seems to manifest in all sorts of different ways – it could be worse than that but we don’t really find out! Anyway, defect equals incarceration. Why, not really sure – maybe there’s a great fear of disease once again taking a hold.
So, Toby, has been taken from his family and taken to a remote island where he now lives with a number of other inhabitants in an old mansion known as ‘The Death House’. This is a pretty horrible existence. To a certain extent the boys and girls live a sort of boarding school existence with lessons in the morning and other activities that they can take part in to pass the time. The problem is – they all know why they’re there and what could possible be worse than counting down your own existence never quite knowing when the grim reaper will show up. On top of that, you could call this a care home – except nobody really cares about their charges – it’s just all a means to an end. Cold and sterile and actually a little bit forbidding in the shape of Matron!
Okay, you’re probably thinking where’s the good.
Characters: I know I’m always banging on about characterisation but I do love good characters when I’m reading and this book has good characters in spades. I mean, they’re not all as well developed as each other but we pretty soon get a good idea of the dynamics and different groups. Toby, has become almost like a carer to the younger boys on his ward. Jake is the tough guy and seems to have attracted the wannabee toughies. Ashley turns to worship and given how scared they all are he also develops something of a following. Then we have The Matron – everybody is trying to stay under her radar. She is over starched to say the least. Nurse Ratched could take a few lessons from her!
Plot: well, it’s all like a mystery and it’s compelling to read about. You feel in the dark as a reader – which is somewhat ironic as Toby does like to spend most of his time wandering around by himself at night alone. This is until the latest new additions to the house which include a young girl who is about to upset the tentative status quo. Clara. She has an undoubted love of life that not even being brought to the Death House has squashed.
Setting: A dilapidated mansion on a remote island with lots of unfurnished, unused rooms. It could be incredibly creepy but Toby relates the story in an unaffected manner. He doesn’t believe in ghosts and is happy to spend time alone at night in what really could be a bit of a spooky setting.
The unexpected. I sort of spent most of the novel gagging to find out what was going on. What was the Sanatorium where the sick children disappeared to. What actually happens there. What I actually received instead was a captivating tale of love. The love and care that some of the inhabitants found for each other in spite of such dire circumstances, the love that some of them managed to find in the most simple things – such as snowfall, and then the relationship that developed between Toby and Clara.
I will say that this is an emotional read. I’m not going to lead you astray on that point. But, it’s also intriguing and mysterious. You start reading and you don’t want to stop.
Pinborough has a way with words. She’s the word master!! I’ve read quite a few of her books now and she defiantly manages to evade genres skirting around on the edges of contemporary and speculative fiction. I love it!
My monthly round up – what I’ve read/plan to read, any events, etc:
- Golden Son by Pierce Brown
- The Ship by Antonia Honeywel
- Shadow Study by Maria Snyder
- The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams
- Canary by Duane Swierczynskiy
- Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz
- True Grit by Charles Portis
- Death House by Sarah Pinborough – review to follow
- True Grit by Charles Portis
Unfinished series completed:
Unfortunately I didn’t complete any series this month – and so the slippery slope yawns in front of me!! I do intend to complete 10 series this year. I’ve completed one already so nine more to go.
- The Death House by Sarah Pinborough – review to follow
- The Explorer by James Smythe – thanks to Bride of the Book God for this recommendation
- Black Heart by Holly Black – one of my series to be completed
- The Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle – just picked this up on a whim
- Red Delicious by Kathleen Tierney – loved the first (Blood Oranges) and so very excited to read this. Thanks to Fantasy Review Barn and Bibliosanctum for getting me into this series.
- The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher – I’ve just really liked the look of this for some time and then I also saw an excellent review from Not Yet Read here.
- Cursed Moon by Jaye Wells – really looking forward to this! Really enjoyed Dirty Magic.
- The Third Woman by Jonathan Freedland – thank you Harper Fiction!
- Scarred for Life by Kerry Wilkinson – I have a copy of this to giveaway (UK only) thanks PanMacmillan books
- Nightfall Gardens by Allen Houston
- The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu – I’ve bought the first two and now I’m going to have a mammoth trilogy readalong by myself!
- The Unremembered by Peter Orullian – this looked very intriguing so we’ll see.
- Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan – so happy to receive this book that I danced a little jig!
- Daughters of Shadow and Blood – by J Matthew Saunders – intrigued by the mention of Dracula!
Readalong of Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead with Susan at Dab of Darkness. Being joined by some lovely bloggers – it’s still not too late to join in the fun.
Backlist Backburn is an end of month event organised by Lisa at Tenacious Reader. If you’ve caught up on any of your backlist then call over and link up. I find this a good incentive to dust off some of my books!
Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and Bookish (every Tuesday)
Tough Travel by Nathan at the Fantasy Review Barn (every Thursday)
Just finished reading True Grit which is one of those stories that I’ve wanted to read for ages and in fact had sitting by the side of my bed for about 3 or 4 years! Recommended by a good friend. In truth I don’t read a lot of western type stories and yet the few I have read I’ve enjoyed and True Grit is no exception. It’s just an incredibly good story, a bit of a coming of age tale really, told in retrospect by a woman called Mattie Ross.
I’m going to give you an example of the first few sentences which give you an idea of what Mattie is really like:
“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.”
For me, that snapshot gives a really good idea of the writing style and the character that you will be introduced to with Mattie. It also pretty much sums up the story which is about Mattie finding her father’s killer, with the help of a US Marshall called Rooster Cogburn.
I’m not going to go further into the story because there are plenty of very excellent reviews already out there and on top of that the book has been successfully adapted to the big screen twice so I’m sure most people will already have an idea.
What made this book so enjoyable for me was a combination of plain, economic and yet effective writing, excellent characterisation and effortless world building that brings to life this strange and austere world coupled with very sharp dialogue that brings a certain comedic element in to play.
Now you might be thinking that with a 14 year old main protagonist this isn’t for you but Mattie is an intelligent girl who knows her own mind. She’s not stubborn – she just knows what she wants to achieve and systematically goes about making it happen. She’s not an emotional character at all and I think I really liked that about although in fact it did puzzle me at first, particularly how well she took the murder of her own father, but then the other thing with this story is it is being told by Mattie some considerable number of years later and so I suppose it’s easier to relate the story in a methodical and unsentimental manner. Whatever the case may happen to be, I really liked the narration and think Portis does a fantastic job of bringing this western to life.
Without a doubt Mattie and Cogburn steal the show. A detached 14 year old with a sharp tongue and an old curmudgeonly, drunken Marshall who would sooner shoot first and ask questions later. And, it’s not just that these two are such good characters but it’s also the strange bond that they seem to develop. Of course the story has other characters thrown in for good measure such as Chaney and Lucky Ned Pepper, plus LeBoeuf, the Texas ranger who is bounty hunting Chaney and manages to join up with Cogburn in the search.
I have to admit that if all westerns are this good I really could become quite addicted!
I would certainly recommend this and also, if you like what you read, you might also want to give Patrick DeWitt’s Sisters Brothers a look at. All that remains to be said is:
“Fill your hand you son of a bitch”
As this is a book I’ve taken from my tbr I’m adding this to my Backlist Burndown – which you can check out over at Tenacious Reader. (I’m a little late – should really have posted yesterday!)
Oh, and for the record – I really liked the John Wayne version of Rooster – nothing wrong with Bridge’s version of course but that’s my opinion.
I just loved Flex. It gripped me virtually immediately with a very shocking start and then just had me hooked. I really, really enjoyed it and it brings a whole new meaning to what goes around comes around! This book is all about the payback and weighing the options that are in front of you.
Flex brings to us a world where magic exists. In every other way the world is as we know it, well, except that Europe has been eliminated as a result of a cataclysmic event caused by magic users. You see, every time magic is created (Flex) there is a downside, if you will, (Flux) and this has to go somewhere. It usually ends up injuring the loved ones of those practising magic meaning they are usually quite solitary souls. Consequently, magic is outlawed. Magic users are feared and hated. They’re like terrorists because of the damage they cause. They’re hunted and when found indoctrinated (or brainwashed) in the army – where all the magic users now have a ‘hive’ mind mentality with no freedom of thought. The flux can tear holes into the world that just basically swallow everything and so those with the ability to conjure, ‘mancers’, are hated with a vengeance.
The thing with Flex is that it’s kind of addictive and can be stored in crystals and used by others. The results are not usually good though because people ‘using’ Flex don’t know their own limits and they certainly don’t know how to syphon off the flux in the least damaging way, even experienced ‘mancers can still cause a ‘rain of toads’. In that respect the book gets off to an immediate start.
Paul Tasbo is the main character in the book. Paul used to be a cop. He went after a ‘mancer and instead of following the golden rule (call in back up) he went in alone. The result, he lost a foot during a shooting. The ‘mancer was killed and Paul was the only person to survive such a meeting! Consequently he became quite famous there for a while with all the ‘mancer haters’ loving him! Paul left the force and went into insurance. Strangely, this is where the story really comes into it’s own. Paul has a love of paperwork and keeping things in order and his love of all things in their rightful place seems to extend to him having his own magical ability. Paul is a Bureaucromancer! Seriously!
Now, at the start of the book we have a series of terrible events that give a good idea of how seriously bad the Flux can really be. However, these events have been orchestrated by a ‘mancer on a mission, almost a serial killer. Unfortunately, during one of these attacks Paul’s daughter Aliya is badly hurt and now he’s hellbent on finding the culprit. Coupled with this his his desire to learn more about his magic and his need to help his daughter.
This book is just so damned good. There is plenty of action and the magic is great to read about with all the different strains. Paul ends up with a ‘mentor’ called Valentine. A young woman who is gamemancer – just how cool is that. And, that’s the thing this book is filled with ‘all the cool’. You can totally get your geek on with all the gaming references and Valentine is an excellent character with her obsessive gaming. In fact, Paul and Valentine make an excellent team.
Why did I love this book. Well, whilst it feels like it has lots of things that may ‘remind’ you of other things it also feels totally unique. It has the feel of something that would be great in a comic book and the action and magic put you in mind of super heroes. That’s not to say that the magic is totally explained – or maybe I’m just too dense! It seems that if you obssess enough about a thing you twist reality or physics into something more and unleash your own potential. Then there’s the whole conundrum of right vs wrong, loss, betrayal and – well, just everything.
Not a terribly eloquent review I have to admit – I’m probably too close to having just finished the book and still feeling in that excited zone that you reach when you read something different and compelling. But, well, it may not be the most well written I hope that I’ve made my feelings clear.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book. I don’t have any criticisms. In fact I can’t conceive of anybody not liking it. I want more.
I received a copy of this from the publishers through Netgalley. The above is my own opinion.
Today at the Fantasy Review Barn we are once again travelling through the tropes of fantasy. This week’s topic is Chessmasters:
A true master knows where all the pieces are at all times. Others may think they have taken control but alas, the master knew their last move before they played it.
Kelsier – from Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – he really did think ahead! And, I can’t say more because it will contain spoilers!
Locke Lamora – from the Gentleman Bastards by Scott Lynch – planning ahead is his forte really – it might not always (ahem) go accordingly but he certainly does try!
Jorg – from Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire. Now here is a guy who can forward plan – bloody hell! He has all sort of things just set up ‘in case’.
Voldermort – okay, things might not have gone brilliantly for our slippery friend but come on, he had the foresight to plant horcruxes – that’s your thinking ahead right there.
Folks – I’m afraid I struggled a little bit with this one. No doubt I’ll be kicking myself when I see all your wonderful examples but them’s the breaks.
See you all next week.
Ohh, honorary mention – Sauron – again, things didn’t go just as planned but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He had wizards to corrupt, orc armies to raise, mercenaries to bring into the game, Gollum to torture and the ring to find – and let’s face it, he didn’t have a body!! Although you could argue that a gigantic eye comes in useful when you’re trying to keep abreast of everything.