Monday, October 14, 2013

ARC Book Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Title: Bellman & Black
Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: November 5th, 2013
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions: 
The EARC that I received featured the first cover but this appears to be the cover being used for the paperback.  The image below, is the cover for the hardcover.  While I do like the image for the paperback with the emphasis on time and the blue/black feathers, the hardcover version is much mroe appealing.  I love the image of the Rook and the black ribbon as well as the scrollwork in the corners.  It feels much more gothic and fits well with the overall tone of the novel.

The Gist:
When William Bellman was a boy he killed a rook on a childhood dare.  The arc of trajectory of the stone plays an important role in determining the outcome of William's life.  As a young man, he begins working for his Uncle's textile mill and discovers and incredible acumen for the business.  Years later, with his young family secure and his business thriving, William's luck takes a turn for the worst.  Having lost almost everything, he strikes a mysterious deal with an even more mysterious stranger and sets his sights on the business of death.  


I distinctly remember reading The Thirteenth Tale and falling in love with the author's style.  It was an engrossing read with a well-planned mystery.  I was expecting something similar from Bellman & Black.  While Setterfield's writing style remains beautiful, and dark, and gothic, the plot of Bellman & Black simply did not hold up to its predecessor. 

Having read the synopsis I was anxiously awaiting the clandestine meeting of Bellman and Black.  It took a very long time to get to the magical part of the story.  This interrupted my reading in the first 1/3rd because I was constantly waiting for the dark stranger to appear and to strike a deal. In fact, I feel like I spent the length of this entire novel waiting.  I was waiting for the "mysterious stranger" to appear, waiting for Bellman to come into his own, waiting for his daughter to become a more interesting character.  I spent so much of the novel waiting for something interesting to happen that I was not actually enjoying what I was reading. 

There were some aspects of the novel that gave me glimmers of hope for a more successful outcome.  The scenes involving the fever, for example, were incredibly well written.  They were truly painful and simply written, but even through the language and phrasing I could see the pain that these sweeping deaths caused.  This is where Setterfield shone; in the language of suffering 

I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Bellman at the beginning of the book.  He was young, energetic and full of life.  As the book wore on I became more and more tired of the individual that William Bellman became.  The plot was almost entirely character driven, which was unfortuate, because, by the end of the book, I simply didn't like the main character.  I would have been a much happier reader if some of the other characters had been more fleshed out.  There was great potential in Bellman's daughter Dora, and the seamstress, Lizzie but, unfortunately, they remained flat characters with little impact on the story.   

The ending left me feeling unsatisfied.  I spent the entire book waiting for the appearance of Black and when we finally get to learn his secrets they were not nearly as exciting as I had hoped.  The end scene was actually incredibly anti-climatic.  I spent several days after reading trying to piece together my feelings and force my way into liking the story, but I simply couldn't.  I remain a huge fan of the beautiful way in which Setterfield is able to string words together but, in this particular novel, there was not enough plot to hold my interest.    


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