Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

The journals of painter and historian Edmund Stearne have been kept safely in Wake’s End since his admittance to an asylum for the criminally insane. He admitted he did it but that he never did anything wrong. 60 years later, his daughter releases his, and her, story to the world.

The gulf between these two existences was vast. There was no in-between. Either he was a murderer, or he was not.

Wakenhyrst is a gothic style horror set in the fens of East Anglia. While the characters are fictional, much of the story is based on real historical accounts; the delirious writings of a spiritualist, the disturbing paintings of asylum inmates, and the doom, a religious mural depicting the Day of Judgement.

Through Edmund’s journal, his entitlement of his position in the world is clear. He can treat those in his household how he pleases, as long as he keeps up appearances to society. As Maud’s account starts, she knows her mother is constantly ill, resulting in “the groaning”. Edmund’s sexual desires take precedence over his wife’s health, who repeatedly suffers miscarriages. Young Maud makes up her own version of events until she starts to read her father’s journals.

Like Alice, Maman had never been allowed to do anything; she’d always had things done to her. She had been ‘given in marriage’ and ‘permitted’ fine clothes – although only if Father approved of them.

I loved the decision to switch between the despicable man of the times and the girl’s perspective. In Thin Air, the main character was racist and arrogant, and despite it fitting for the time, it was a little off-putting. In Wakenhyrst, Edmund can have horrible attitudes towards women but it’s tempered by Maud’s perspective. He might think her weak minded but she’s quite the opposite. It also means you’re looking forward to something bad happening to him!

Maud’s a fantastic character. As she reads her father’s journal, her opinion of him changes rapidly and she starts to subtly annoy him on purpose. She saves and befriends a magpie, hence the cover, and she strikes up a friendship with the handsome gardener, someone below her station as far as her father is concerned. Through this it highlights the power imbalance caused by poverty.

To her the fen was a forbidden realm of magical creatures and she longed for it with a hopeless passion.

Maud loves the fen and feels at home wandering its watery wilderness. However her father is scared of it, his guilt manifesting in his paranoia. The pervasive marsh smell starts to haunt him as he becomes more and more obsessed with the rantings of Alice Pyett, ironically a female spiritualist. It’s gripping and tense, and my favourite Michelle Paver book by far.

Wakenhyrst is published by Head of Zeus and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

ATY: 39. A book with a strong sense of place or where the author brings the location/setting to life

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