The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones
Present Day: Cadair Idris, Snowdonia. Hannah Wilde flees to Llyn Gwyr, a remote mountain farmhouse, her husband bleeding to death on the passenger seat beside her. In the back of the car sits their seven year old daughter. Hannah’s father is missing. Her mother is already dead. Mysterious strangers are converging on the mountain. And Hannah must decide who to trust – and who to sacrifice – if she’s to defeat the predator who has stalked five generations of her family.
1979: Balliol College, Oxford. Charles Meredith, a brilliant, obsessive professor, clashes with a beautiful French woman in Balliol’s library. When the woman disappears, and her identity is exposed as a sham, Charles is dragged into a terrifying pursuit.
1873: Gödöllö, Hungary. Lukas Balázs prepares for his végzet night, the celebration that symbolises his entry into adulthood. But the festivities are about to go horribly wrong, and only Lukas knows why.
A centuries-old secret is about to unravel … Jakab is coming.
There is something intrinsically appealing about the idea of secret societies. The idea that somehow, often hidden in plain sight, groups of individuals exist who are different from everyone else. They live their secret lives, going about their secretive business, and the vast majority of the populace are blissfully ignorant of their existence. The String Diaries explores this premise, that there are long lived individuals behind the scenes subtly directing events.
Hannah has never really known anything other than upheaval in her life. Forced, due to events out with her control, to continually be vigilant and more often than not be on the move. Hannah and her family aren’t living they are merely surviving. Her family have spent many decades playing a delicate game of cat and mouse, attempting to evade a man who is utterly fixated with them. I immediately warmed to Hannah, circumstance has made her a survivor. Though the strain is beginning to show she maintains a tough exterior and is constantly driving herself, and her family, forward. She refuses to let the situation get on top of her. Her resilience and inner strength are inspirational.
Jakab, the villain of the piece, is an out an out monster. He believes that his actions are justified and this thought has perverted every thing he does . Obsessed and ruthless he will stop at nothing to get exactly what he wants. Sadly for Hannah what he wants is her. Time has twisted Jakab, each passing year giving him further justification to the trail of destruction he leaves in his wake. He is the worst kind of villain, the one that thinks he has right on his side.
There is always a concern when a novel is split over multiple time periods that things may get overly complex or difficult to follow, not so in this case. Everything is woven together so well that it all fits seamlessly. Not only does each time period work in isolation but they also manage to enhance the story as a whole. I had no difficulty keeping pace with the events in the three different strands of narrative. Discovering how these seemingly disparate series of events are all interconnected is where the story really succeeds. The chapters that deal with events in Hungary featuring Lukas Balazs and the birth of Jakab are a highlight being particularly well observed.
Now normally if I’m reading a novel and I get to page one hundred and fifty and I still have no idea what is going on I’m tempted to just stop and not read any further. This novel appears to be the exception to this rule however. Things are drip fed to the reader quite slowly but this creates a marvelous sense of tension, the very definition of a page turner in my mind. When new characters are introduced you’re unsure if they can be trusted and what their motivations are. You get the feeling that there is much more going on elsewhere that you aren’t privy to. I like this idea, that we’re just getting a small glimpse of something much larger.
Reminiscent of the classic Weaveworld by Clive Barker The String Diaries has some wonderfully detailed world building going on. The traditions of the hosszu eletek (the long lived) and their intricate society are quite well realized. You get just enough information to remain intrigued but there is still more mystery that has yet to be disclosed. This group function like almost like royalty. They are power brokers, helping to shape the course of events on a global scale. I would have liked to learn more about this mysterious group. I suspect/hope that this is something that could/will be explored in a sequel? Fingers crossed.
Overall I was impressed with Stephen Lloyd Jones first novel. This is a splendid debut, certainly one of the most entertaining things I’ve read in 2013 so far. Great characters, an intriguing plot and good pacing come together come together to form this is perfect summer read.
The String Diaries is published by Headline and is available now.