If you pick this up thinking it’s a charming fantasy or even a gothic horror novel you may be disappointed. Like Kiernan’s The Red Tree (which I loved), it has eerie leanings but at its core it’s more an intimate and unflinching look at a person’s struggle with insanity. It revisits several of the same themes but it takes them further and, as much as I tried and wanted to love this one just as much, in the end it just didn’t work for me.
Told in first person, India (Imp) is the unreliable narrator. She starts the book saying it will be a “ghost story with a mermaid and a werewolf”. And though it does visit those themes, this book is really a memoir written by Imp as she attempts to maneuver her way through her memories which may or may not be real because she suffers from schizophrenia. She often admits to lying and the reader is left to piece together what is truth and what is a lie.
I fell into Imp’s story in the early chapters as Imp recalled her past, explains of the madness that has been passed down to her and tells the story of how she met her lover Abalyn. But as the story progressed and drifted off into many side stories and tangents I found myself drifting away. Somewhere at the midway point I didn’t feel as if I could trust anything Imp was telling me and I also felt quite lost and never really regained my footing. Imp admits she is confused and though I sympathized with her, I also felt frustrated and confused trying to decipher and make sense of her thoughts. This is a book that doesn’t go down easy and may take further readings to comprehend. At least it was that way for me. As much as I love Kiernan’s lyrical and dream-like writing, I have to admit that this book didn’t work for me once I hit the midway mark. It makes me almost sad to admit that. Maybe someday I’ll give it another go and maybe then I’ll be able to wrap my head around it all. Or maybe not.
I listened to this as an unabridged audio read by Suzy Jackson who does a great job with the material. She manages to sound young but not too young and feels genuinely at home in the character of Imp. There aren’t too many characters in Imp’s world but she manages to give them all a unique voice that suits each character.