Book Review: Awakening by S.J. Bolton

6116750Title: Awakening
Author: S.J. Bolton
Genre: Thriller, Psychological Thriller, Mystery and Suspense
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 4 stars
Purchase: Amazon, Goodreads, B&N

Clara Benning, a veterinary surgeon in charge of a wildlife hospital in a small English village, is young and intelligent, but nearly a recluse. Disfigured by a childhood accident, she generally prefers the company of animals to people. But when a local man dies following a supposed snakebite, Clara’s expertise is needed. She’s chilled to learn that the victim’s postmortem shows a higher concentration of venom than could ever be found in a single snake—and that therefore the killer must be human.

Assisted by a soft-spoken neighbor and an eccentric reptile expert, Clara unravels sinister links to an abandoned house, an ancient ritual, and a fifty-year-old tragedy that has left the survivors secretive. But for someone the truth must remain buried in the past—even if they have to kill to keep it there.

Awakening is a disturbing tale of dark secrets and insidious rituals that will have readers unable to stop for a breath until they’ve reach the stunning climax of this extraordinary read from the author of the acclaimed debut novel Sacrifice.

Awakening is a deeply disturbing story about a small town mysteriously infested by snakes – and not the garden variety, but dangerous killers brought here from Papoea New Guinea. When veterinary surgeon Clara, a recluse by her own making, gets summoned to help when a hysterical mother finds a snake in her baby’s crib, that’s only the beginning of the madness. Later on, a man dies from a seemingly innocent snake bite, and 39 snakes are found in one of the neighboring houses. Is it just a random occurence, or is someone behind it?

At first Clara wants to stay out of this as much as possible. She’s a recluse by choice, preferring to stay away from company ever since she was harmed when she was a baby, leaving her with terrible scars on her face. But she can’t help but get involved in this case, as every occurence requires the help and assistance of a veterinary. On top of that, old man Witcher, a man she somewhat got along with, has returned from the death and is now stalking her every move, even appearing in her home. So maybe Witcher isn’t dead at all, and he’s the culprit behind the snake attacks, or maybe someone who looks a lot like the old man she used to know has returned to town…

With Clara’s life and reputation at stake as more and more fingers begin to point in her direction, she must take matters into her own hands and find out what is going on. Her search leads her back to the town’s history, to a church that burned down decades ago, to the Witcher family…

I actually really liked Clara, which is strange because she avoids all human contact if possible and prefers to stay on her own. I liked that – it was new, it was fresh. We don’t offer get a protagonist who’s scarred for life and too afraid to talk to people, and it was an original asset to the story. The novel actually had a very gothic feel, both because of the descriptions of the town, and because of the protagonist, who acts like she just ran away from a gothic novel. I also liked the hint of romance in the book, and how Clara learns, along the way, that looks aren’t everything. People might start to care for her, even though she has a disfigured face. People might treat her like an ordinary human being and look past those scars if she gives them the opportunity. So in that sense, this novel is a bit like a coming-of-age story, although Clara is already in her thirties. The protagonist goes through an almost insane amount of character development here, which was great.

The story itself was intriguing as well, although it was also a bit awkward here and there. I liked the setting – the old town, the abandoned house, the snakes – but some things were a bit too random for me to ignore. Like when at some point Clara is chased by some other village people, I was continuously wondering “why”. I mean, these people are stupid and ignorant, sure. But is it just because she’s scarred that they’d chase her down and call her names? I doubt that, unless they were highly intoxicated or something. Either way,that was just one of the few things that didn’t make sense to me. I also thought the story of what happened in the past was a bit over the top.

All in all, the book was a great read, even if some parts of the story made me frown. It had intriguing characters, especially the protagonist, and a mysterious setting to match the extraordinary plot. I wouldn’t mind seeing more books by this author, especially if she brings me another one featuring the same protagonist.


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