Being a writer means that sometimes you get to read novels before they are published, and last week, I was fortunate enough to be sent an ‘advanced reading copy’ of House of Shadows, by Misha M. Herwin.
The story is a beguiling account of a prolonged haunting , that takes place in a newly converted art studio, a Bristol council estate and a magnificent house where fortunes are revealed to have been linked with a nefarious trade.
As a young girl, Jo is befriended by a ghost who seems able to slip through time to be with her earth-bound friend. Jo’s life is far from an easy one, she’s no stranger to heartache. As the book progresses her backstory is revealed, but none of this is narrated in a cloying, misery-lit style, it’s delivered effectively to help define Jo’s character and give the reader a deeper understanding of why she makes the decisions she does.
The text is like a weekend train that pulls away neatly, comforting the reader as it smoothly moves along, eventually gathering a steady pace throughout the first chapters until it starts to gain speed in the middle and then propels you at breakneck speed to the tumultuous finale. The nicely paced chapter lengths help the tension to build from the start without the need for jarring passages that would detract from the beauty of the writing. Herwin uses a nice blend of descriptive prose and believable dialogue mixed with inner character thoughts to produce a well rounded piece of literature.
The characterisation is well thought out and each one develops easily on the page to create a clear and visual image. The teenager, Strif is a well observed character, so much so, that I found her teenage petulance and mood swings annoying, which I felt was the aim of the author. I particularly liked the characters of Cecile and Helene, both of whom where richly blended together, giving an unequivocal clarity to their relationship. With the character of Nan was superbly written and I’m sure many people will have no trouble identifying with her.
The novel’s setting is a well crafted juxtaposition between old and new, the edges between the eras are blurred perfectly allowing Jo’s experiences of the haunting where she passes from present day to the past to move seamlessly throughout the text. I think the ability to dip in and out of both Jo’s past and present and the past and present of the ghostly characters would have been a difficult thing for a new writer to achieve, however Herwin, an experienced and accomplished wordsmith handles the task with aplomb.
There are many great lines, lying in wait amid the prose and these gems give a sense of satisfaction to the reader; the knowledge that words have been carefully selected to create and mould the perfect sentence. There’s the realism of lines such as, ‘In front of her two kids argued about whether they wanted curry sauce or gravy on their chips,’ and the intended imagery of one that followed, ‘Fish lay beached in glass tanks, skin puffed with batter.’
Finally, although this is written for the female literary market, it works very well as a stand alone tale of haunting, hostility and the human condition. Making it a suitable applicant for a crossover within its intended readership demographic.
House of Shadows, will be released in October 2014, via Amazon and other outlets and will be the perfect accompaniment to your Halloween reading.