Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Review | The String Diaries - Stephen Lloyd Jones

The String Diaries is an urban fantasy, but this time - thankfully - minus the vampires! I love a myth as much as anyone, and The String Diaries finds fresh ground in its particular subject: shapechangers, but in this case, into other humans. But we're getting ahead of ourselves:

According to the blurb, String Diaries follows two protagonists: Charles Meredith, an Oxford professor who find his library table taken (don't ask), inevitably gets dragged into a car chase (really don't ask), and from there into the myth of the story, as well as the life of Nicole Dubois. But in reality, the real focus is on Hannah, his daughter. She's on the run, pursued by a mysterious figure named only Jakab - apparently a shapechanger, and one passed down through the family - and trying to protect her daughter.

Although focus might be a stronger word than really necessary, because The String Diaries takes the long view: telling the story of Jakab and his relationship with the family, told in the titular diaries. That's not to say it isn't engrossing: it is, and Jakab makes a twisted yet understandable villain. Exploring the history of Jakab's people; the book's backstory is particularly interesting - but while generally far from plain exposition, it does flirt with it at times, so can be a little uneven. Nevertheless, it's a very nice touch in an urban fantasy, where the background can sometimes suffer in relation to the action.

That's not to say the action suffers. Generally, the tension and suspense are high, and there are some truly graphic moments when the action comes - lost on me (squeamish me, I'm afraid!), but certainly well written. That said, some characters are insufficiently built up for attachment - the husband, for instance - and a larger complaint would be an insufficiently built up moment in itself: in other words, a revelation which, without much foreshadowing, comes off as simply deus-ex-machina (especially since it resolves, well, rather a lot).

Despite its quirks and the occasional flaw, The String Diaries is intensely readable: I raced through it. It's a readable urban fantasy with likeable characters and a bit more depth than most. And if you want a villain? Jakab's your man/shapechanger.