Review of ‘Rotherweird’ by Andrew Caldecott

This book is said to have Gormenghast and Hogwarts vibes – referencing two of my favourite series – so I had high hopes. Mind you, I found it in a charity shop, so I wasn’t risking much. I was intrigued by Rotherweird up to about halfway through, when I realised it wasn’t making sense and that not one of the many characters was worth caring about. There was an eccentric boat race on the river, with the characters in fancy dress, which did nothing to further the plot. That’s when I knew that the 200 or so pages left were going to be a struggle.

The concept of this book is excellent. The town of Rotherweird has led an isolated, independent existence since Tudor times after a group of children with powerful gifts were sent there. No one is allowed to study the town’s history. Then a strange and wealthy man, who is clearly evil, arrives in the town with the intention of discovering his past. A horrible secret about some stones, a recipe book and a patch of space called the mixing-point.

One of the failings in the book is the third-person narrative, which jumps between characters and ensures that we have repeated information (always annoying) and a lack of focus. The character who introduces us to Rotherweird, from an outsider’s perspective, ought to have been more consistently followed. Another unsatisfactory element is the lack of drama in what should be an exciting read. Events are buried within the verbiage. For example, in one of the later chapters there was a fire, during which some important details were revealed, but it was described in such a leisurely way that I had to re-read it. Not something you want to be doing when the pace should be pulling you forward.

On the subject of re-reading, the writing style was difficult to wade through and sometimes I had no idea what it meant. I made a note of this sentence on page 219: ‘In April Hayman Salt plaited spent daffodil leaves like a Martian hairdresser.’ No matter how many times I read it, I still can’t understand it. Can anyone enlighten me?

There are some interior illustrations by Sasha Laika, done in a folk art style. I quite like them, but I’m not convinced that they add anything to the story. Moreover, they are very different from the fine woodcut-style of the cover image. The latter is more suited to the Tudor influence in the book. Another visual element to mention, at least in the printed edition, is the variety of fonts which represent handwritten letters and notes. These fonts were much too small compared to the rest of the text and the cursive styles were not easy to read.

In summary, I don’t recommend Rotherweird, unless you’re a fan of cryptic crosswords and you like books with too many characters. There are sequels, if you wish to read them.

Published in 2017 by Jo Fletcher Books.

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