This was another one of those books I picked up due to a groundswell of support, it seemed to be everywhere I went. I will confess that the beauty of the cover didn’t hurt.
Set in the Victorian period, it tells the story of two contestants in a ‘game.’ It’s a game that starts when they’re barely old enough to understand and continues throughout their lives. For much of the book the nature of the game itself is a mystery, as are many of the characters.
I’d liken it to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, in that the intriguing world is enough to draw you in at the start, the story seems to plateau and go nowhere for long periods in the middle and finally there’s some urgency to reach a conclusion near the end.
The writing, as with Jonathan Strange, is beautiful, in fact moreso. Morgenstern describes a wonderful world in florid detail, some of which is as rich and delicious as the finest chocolate cake, velvety smooth and dark. She describes constructions unlike anything I’ve ever read (heard) before.
The problem is she seems to enjoy reveling in them too much. There are numerous scenes that exist purely so she can tantalise you with yet another intricate invention, serving no other purpose.
While the scenery is beautifully drawn, the characters, while well-rounded, didn’t captivate me, which makes the whole story a hard sell. Like the main character’s instructors, most of the cast were distant and unrelatable, though you could argue it would have been hard to empathise with their situation.
It wasn’t helped by the narrative hopping about in time, which I found hard to follow on occasion (non-linear stories seem harder to keep track of when you’re listening to an audiobook).
Towards the end I was just hoping for it to end, counting down the seconds I had left to listen to, instead of caring about what happened, which is obviously a bad sign.
Imaginative and evocative, even magical in places, but in the end I found it lacking something: heart.