Stephen Lloyd Jones’ The String Diaries is an electrifying debut. Though this story of a family that has long been hunted by a centuries-old monster with a deadly obsession is a delightfully unique read that begs to be devoured races to an ending that is somewhat unsatisfying, the journey up to that point is made up of the stuff that gets readers talking--think of the buzz that surrounded Elizabeth Cordova’s The Historian and you’ll get a good sense of the fascination that Jones has delivered with this novel tale.
The novel opens in present day Snowdonia (a real place in Wales, though it sounds rather fantastical). It’s the small hours of the night and Hannah Wilde is driving frantically, for her life and for her family. Her 9-year-old daughter, Leah is (somehow) asleep in the backseat, even as her husband, Nate, sporting a pair of wicked stomach wounds is in the process of bleeding out in the passenger seat. With them the family, like so many before them, carry a collection of handwritten diaries that date back some 200 years. This collection of tomes contains the information and rules of survival that a series of mothers have handed down to their daughters since the 1800s. And we’re not talking about some kind of Oregon Trail recollections or “don’t put foil in the microwave” kind of survival advice, but rather tips on how to verify if your friends and family really are themselves, and not the shapeshifting, skinchanging villain from which so many a fled and at whose hands so many have fallen.
Throughout the course of the novel, Jones transports readers from the present day all the way back to late 1800s Hungary and more recently, to 1970s Oxford, England to reveal the stories of Hannah’s family, and the ominous figure that has haunted them for so long--a man from an ancient royal line with the ability to alter his appearance and under the guise of a trusted friend or love insert himself into the lives of his victims, a clever trick that’s damaging in more ways than one. Combining well-timed jumps and multiple points of view, Jones weaves a ranging and complex narrative.
The String Diaries is, for the most part, a successful exercise in crafting compelling material that is best enjoyed when read in a fevered, lengthy session. The early reveals and action drive the plot forward without revealing too much or giving way to the obvious. Unfortuantely, as the climax approaches, the thread begins to unravel, leaving a patchy finale that comes to a bland, transparent and just a bit too tidy resolution.
Still, the ingenuity of concept, well-executed pacing and multiple points of view make for an engrossing read. Jones is off to a fine start with his first novel and most readers will find themselves plenty willing to dive into his next work when it hits shelves.
Title: The String Diaries
Author:Stephen Lloyd Jones
Release date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication date: 7/1/2014