Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

String Diaries Review The String Diaries
by Stephen Lloyd Jones

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: John Toon

Hannah Wilde, her husband and her daughter are holed up in a remote farmhouse in Snowdonia, and as if that weren't horror enough, they're being stalked by Jakab. Jakab is an apparently immortal entity who has terrorised Hannah's family for generations, and he's had a lot of time to practise his talent for mimicry. He could already be among them...

This is an extraordinary debut novel, very confidently and competently written by an author who doesn't hesitate to kill off his characters. It spans three narrative streams, alternating between the three from chapter to chapter: the Wildes in the present day, the experiences of Hannah's parents in Oxford in 1979, and Jakab's origins in 19th century Hungary. Jakab's story isn't introduced until the book is well underway, allowing the mystery to build around the nature of the threat he poses: physical shape-changing or demonic possession? I was wrong-footed, and pleased to be surprised by the eventual revelations about him. His motivations are laid out in clear detail, ensuring that he never comes across as straightforwardly and banally evil.

Hannah's family are also well depicted, responding believably to the terrible things that happen to them, arming themselves as best they can with the information passed down through the family in a collection of ragged journals bound in string – the titular "string diaries". (And with guns, obviously.) Hannah and her father are both very accessible viewpoint characters – it's easy for the reader to tap into their sense of anxiety and tension as Jakab closes in on them.

All in all, a successful horror novel and a promising start from a new author.

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