Book Review: ‘Rawblood’ by Catriona Ward

Author: Catriona Ward

Originally published in 2016 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Before I had even opened the book I was fascinated by the creeping black tree branches and  murky blue background featured on the front and back cover. The blurb promised scenes of thriller and the gothic. The words emblazed on the book’s cover: “She comes in the night. She looks into your eyes. One by one, she had taken us all”, had me captivated and I was excited to begin reading. The first chapter began strongly with a foreboding promise of destruction…that I waited and waited for.

The first two-thirds of Rawblood feature two separate narratives. One follows Charles, a doctor in the late 19th Century while the other follows Iris, a teenager living in the early 20th Century. The two stories are connected through Iris’ father and Charles’ friend Alonso Villarca, the Villarca’s ancestral mansion of Rawblood and the ghostly spectre that haunts the house and the family.

I found Iris’ story the more interesting of two. This was perhaps because as through her character the reader joins the search for answers into why the Villarca family is cursed with the ghost of Rawblood. In contrast I felt that Charles’ story took too long to get going. I also did not find him a very likeable character due to his constant denial, at times dismissive attitude, and his unwillingness to accept responsibility until it was far too late. I was disappointed that Alonso was not a point of view character as he could have been a much more interesting narrator given his position as head of the family. Despite some brief flashes of supernatural intrigue in Charles’ chapters, I was always happy when the story returned to Iris as I cared a great deal more about what would happen to her. There was also the added benefit of her chapters moving the plot along at a much quicker pace.

A later version of the front cover

The final third of novel got quite confusing as several new characters were given their own ‘point of view’ chapters. These later chapters bounced backwards and forwards in time, featuring members of the Villarca family from a hundred year period. While I was interested to see how these characters would eventually interact with the ghost I did have to constantly reference back to the family trees (provided at the beginning of the book) to remind myself how all these characters where related to each other. It was at times slightly overwhelming with so many characters and plots to remember all at once. I feel the story may have worked better if these flashbacks had been incorporated at the beginning or if these scenes had been interspaced throughout the novel but told in chronological order to minimise confusion.

Despite this Rawblood is strong gothic thriller that in places reminds me of the wild setting and wild characters of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Despite the confusing order of flashbacks in the last third of the novel, it is clear the author Catriona Ward carefully planned how the histories of her characters would link together. I personally found the narrative pace to be too slow however I do forgive the novel some of its faults for providing an exceptional shocking reveal at the end. Truthfully, Rawblood is an interesting story that I feel would appeal to some readers but not to all.

*This review was originally published in the online magazine Cuckoo Review in September 2016*

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