I love Hardinge’s writing – see my review of Deeplight – so when I caught sight of this breathtakingly lovely cover and registered the author, I immediately requested it. And was absolutely delighted to get hold of a review copy.
BLURB: Kellen and Nettle live in a world where anyone can create a life-destroying curse, but only one person has the power to unravel them. But not everyone is happy he can do so and, suddenly, he’s in a race to save both himself and all those who have been touched by magic…
REVIEW: The first issue to tackle is the fact that this book is labelled a children’s read. Hm. I suppose it can be read by youngsters in that there isn’t any swearing or any overt sex and the protagonists are young. But frankly, as with a number of books in this category, this one is simply too good to leave solely to the kids and I strongly advise you not to discount reading this one simply for that reason alone.
I fell in love with Nettle, who has supposedly recovered from a devastating curse thanks to Kellen’s unique gift. But instead of staggering off to try and pick up the threads of her previous life, she chooses to accompany him on his various jobs where he has to unravel curses and return the victims to their families. Nettle had been turned into a heron and still has periods where she stares into the middle distance and is easily startled. She’s also often quite grumpy at Kellen’s tendency to rush into situations, determined to fix people. And then he’s keen to swiftly move on to the next job, rather than hang around and try to deal with the fallout that often occurs once a curse has been reversed.
However, they make a great team. Nettle, for all her slightly birdlike gestures, is clever and particularly good at finding the weak spots in Kellen’s plans when he wants to rush to the rescue. I thought their exasperation with each other worked particularly well – and their mutually reliant relationship heightened the sense of loss when later on in the book, they have been separated.
As for the plot – it is one of the major strengths of the story. I always love it when I’m in the hands of a master storyteller, whose pacing and plotting continually provides unexpected surprises that never feel forced or contrived. And Hardinge is one such storyteller. I kept trying to slow down, knowing that I was thoroughly enjoying this particular reading experience – but at the same time, desperate to know what happens next. The story provides all sorts of reverses and difficulties for our plucky duo – and Hardinge always weaves a sufficiently convincing air of menace, that I’m not ever totally convinced that her protagonists will prevail. I’m conscious that I’ve made this book sound thrilling, yet a bit bleak – and that isn’t the case. There are lovely touches of dry humour throughout.
If you are looking for an engrossing, well-written fantasy adventure that is also a stand-alone, this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Unraveller from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.