Tuesday 8 March 2022

Book Review: Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver book cover

1906: A large manor house, Wake's End, sits on the edge of a bleak Fen, just outside the town of Wakenhyrst. It is the home of Edmund Stearn and his family – a historian, scholar and land-owner, he's an upstanding member of the local community. But all is not well at Wake's End. Edmund dominates his family tyrannically, in particular daughter Maud. When Maud's mother dies in childbirth and she's left alone with her strict, disciplinarian father, Maud's isolation drives her to her father's study, where she happens upon his diary.

During a walk through the local churchyard, Edmund spots an eye in the undergrowth. His terror is only briefly abated when he discovers it's actually a painting, a 'doom', taken from the church. It's horrifying in its depiction of hell, and Edmund wants nothing more to do with it despite his historical significance. But the doom keeps returning to his mind. The stench of the Fen permeates the house, even with the windows closed. And when he lies awake at night, he hears a scratching sound – like claws on the wooden floor...

Wakenhyrst is one of the books I most wanted to read in 2022. Although it's not a newly-published novel, it's been on my to-read list since it was published, so I was excited to finally read it!

This is a gorgeous, Gothic story filled with creeping tension, an incredibly atmospheric setting - and, of course, plenty of things that go bump in the night. Wakenhyrst simply oozes the atmosphere of the mysterious Fen. It is one of the constant themes throughout the book. In fact, the storytelling is so immersive that you can almost picture yourself staring out at the Fen, watching the reeds rippling in the breeze, and smelling its unique scent on the air. 

The book effortlessly combines elements of horror, mystery, and thriller into a historical context. As with Michelle Paver's other books, the writing is flawless and the pacing immaculate. It's creeping and tense, yet not too slow to lose the slithering fingers of dread that wind their way up your spine as you read.

Maud is the main character, and we experience her life alongside her as the story progresses. From the early days and her relationship with her immediate family, through to her discovery of her father's journal and assistance with his work, each step leads closer to working out what happened and why. Maud is an excellent character, balancing her natural intelligence and love of learning with a passion for the Fen, innate curiosity, and a certain childish innocence. Although she can be jealous and aloof, at her heart, she's just a young girl trying her best to protect the things she loves. 

If you love a good Gothic story with a brilliant setting and the requisite crumbling, gloomy big house, Wakenhyrst is definitely the book for you.

Rating: 4 stars

Wakenhyrst is available to buy now.

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Have you read Wakenhyrst? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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