Monday, 13 October 2014

Review | Blood Sinister by Celia Rees

by Celia Rees

My Rating: 

Ellen Forrest is sick, she feels as if the life is being sucked out of her. The doctors think that she is suffering from a disease of the blood, and she has been sent to her grandmother's house to rest, but she seems to be getting worse, not better. Can it have anything to do with the diaries she has found in the attic? Diaries written in Victorian times by her great great grandmother. Diaries that describe an encounter with a handsome young Count who comes from the Land Beyond the Forest. 

Ellen likes a vampire story, who doesn't? The difference is that this one just happens to be true…

Celia Rees was the first author to whet my appetite for historical fiction during my early teens, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet her more than once through Litfest. It was during a Litfest event all about Gothic YA Fiction that I first came across Blood Sinister.

Both our protagonists in Blood Sinister share the name Ellen. In the 1990's we have Ellen Forrest, a sixteen year old who is very ill with a blood disease her doctors have been unable to diagnose and are struggling to treat, and in the 19th century we have Ellen Laidlaw, her great great grandmother, who is the daughter of a doctor well known for his advancements in the treatment of blood diseases. Their stories collide when Ellen Forrest discovers her great great grandmother's diaries, written when she was sixteen, detailing the strange events that followed the arrival of a pair of mysterious family friends with an aversion to sunlight...

It was a short, quick read which was just what I was in the mood for, but sadly it was nothing spectacular. It's forgettable, with a rather weak ending, and for someone who's loved Rees's works for so long that was a disappointment.

Having said that, there were elements of the story that were a lot of fun. Rees played around with vampire stereotypes; stereotypes she could play around with because Ellen Laidlaw lived and wrote her diaries before the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula, therefore it was believable that she and her friends and family would never even think to suspect their mysterious guests of vampirism.

I thought it was a wise choice to give the story two protagonists, though I'm still undecided as to whether or not I liked that they were both called Ellen. Historical fiction is one of the most common genres in which you'll find novels with two protagonists; setting one character in the past and another either in or nearer to the present day, who is usually researching the person from the past, is a good way to involve people in the story who are unfamiliar with historical fiction. A lot of people think they need to be a history expert to enjoy historical fiction, and that's just not true.

(If you are one such person and you'd like to read some historical fiction that is told through the eyes of two protagonists, then give Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and Kate Mosse's Labyrinth a try!)

However, both Ellens were also forgettable. I didn't dislike them, but I didn't connect with them or particularly care if they lived or died either. It was great to see, through Ellen Laidlaw, a 19th century heroine pursuing medicine and being supported in that pursuit, but sadly it was this Ellen who also suffered from "not like other girls" syndrome. She was better than the other women around her, who only cared about marrying well and having babies and looking pretty, and I really dislike women who are portrayed this way. There's nothing wrong with wanting to marry well, have babies or look pretty, just as there's nothing wrong with wanting to pursue medicine, and I'd like to see more heroines in fiction - particularly YA fiction - who are aware of this.

Blood Sinister is just okay. It's unlikely to be something I remember in a year's time, but for a quick, tongue-in-cheek Halloween read it was fun, and despite my lower rating I'd recommend it to anyone out there who's looking for something fast and easy to read as Halloween approaches!


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