Saturday 26 November 2022


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Unraveller by Frances Hardinge   {Reviewed by STELLA}

The country of Raddith is an odd place, complex and unpredictable. Kellen, once a weaver, has been gifted or cursed, depending on your perspective, with the ability to ‘unravel’ curses. Nettle, his trusty sidekick (she’s always there — a watchful appeaser to Kellen’s unpredictable temperament) was not so long ago a heron cursed to feed on fish and watch her siblings (each other bird species) struggle with their human-bird / bird-human natures. Though she’s back in her human body, her experience has altered her and some of her heron qualities linger. She’s not the only one haunted by their recent past. Kellen was a weaver from a weaving village, but once he was cursed with unravelling, it wasn’t too long until his parents had to cast him out or suffer the consequences of a village’s livelihood undone.  But there is always work for a curse-fixer, and Kellen and Nettle mostly stay on the right side of law and order. Not all things go smoothly though in the curse game and it’s not too long until Kellen’s temper gets the better of him and they find themselves arrested. No fear, a stranger seeks them out and makes them an offer they are in no position to reject. Gall, a man bonded to a marsh horse (a strange and demonic creature) employs them on behalf of an official. Dark magic and conspiracy are afoot in the chambers of powers and someone wants to see the equilibrium — the deal struck with the Little Brothers (spidery inhabitants of the lowlands) — undone. The Little Brothers spin webs of mystical power and gift the curse eggs to those who carry loathing and hate in their guts. Curse eggs can be controlled, but not easily, and cursers and the cursed alike often regret their actions. Step in the likes of Kellen, who can unpick these spells. With no choice but to follow Gall’s instructions, Kellen and Nettle find themselves pulled tighter into a web of danger and confusion. Will their friendship endure? Will the Little Brothers help or hinder Kellen when he needs them most? The story weaves in uneven and unexpected ways as the two teens travel to the capital to meet their employer — a startling discovery, head to a remote village through a haunted forest, and end up in the lowlands and on the treacherous waters of the Moonlight Market where a clever hand will need to be played if Kellen is to keep his head and Nettle survive a deceit that will surprise the reader as well as her. Hardinge’s latest is a highly structured tale, much like a spider’s web, with two competing but complementary protagonists at its centre. It has those classic elements of loyalty and betrayal, trust and deceit alongside a vividly portrayed fantastical world (at times wonderfully overwhelming and darkly unsettling), which Hardinge does so well. Another stunner from the author of The Lie Tree and A Skinful of Shadows


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