Review of Blood Ritual by Sarah Rayne – 5 Stars

Blood RitualBlood Ritual by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book contains the usual mysterious historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly. I thought I had read most of Rayne’s work and then stumbled across this very early novel and at an exceptionally good price and I must say I feel I got a bargain!

It is quite a dark and unnerving as story, similar to her other standalone novels (such as House of the Lost), but certainly much darker than her Nell West series. It is also shrouded in mystery that crosses the line with legend and myth. I would say this story would appeal to horror fans as much as those that like the historical fiction genre.

The modern storyline follows Catherine a young girl from a convent that is urged by her Abbess/Mother Superior to return to where she grew up. However, Catherine has a secret (a few actually), her family are descendants of Elizabeth Bathory, known to locals as the blood countess, something that the rest of her family are much more proud of than Catherine is. The other main modern character is Michael, a journalist who lost his site at the ancient castle once owned by Elizabeth Bathory. Determined to know the truth about the castle and a horrific image he saw before losing his site, he makes his way back towards the place that haunts him. With Catherine and Michael crossing paths can they uncover the truth of the Bathory family history and live to tell the tale?

The historical storyline follows Elizabeth’s story. Re-living the events as she terrorizes the villages of the surrounding area. With a weak husband, an endless supply of young village girls at her service and a lowly blacksmith to do her bidding and surrounded by plenty of faithful servants, Elizabeth rules with an iron fist, so that even the local priest struggles to put a stop to her. The terrifying (and really interesting) thing about this book and this story is that Elizabeth Bathory truly existed and is rumoured to have done some of the terrible things mentioned in this book!

As with all Sarah Rayne books, her plotting is brilliant, she lays many, many, strands of threads for the reader to follow and then brilliantly weaves them all together. It did take me a little longer than normal to get into this book but it was so worth it when I did for the characters, mystery and dark storyline. I do like that Rayne experiments in her writing and tries out many characters’ viewpoints.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, very clever, particularly the historical storylines. For those that haven’t discovered the Sarah Rayne’s writing, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. Although the dark dividing (standalone novel) is my favourite out Sarah Rayne’s books. The Nell West series she writes is also very good.

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Review of What lies beneath by Sarah Rayne – 3.5 Stars

What Lies BeneathWhat Lies Beneath by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book contains the usual mysterious historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly, it isn’t quite as dark and unnerving as some of her other standalone novels (such as House of the Lost), but certainly darker than her Nell West series.

In the modern storyline, we go with Ella Haywood who finds out the town from her childhood is to be re-opened for a short while prior to being cleared for new motorway bypass. This is the talk of the town and soon Ella gets very jittery and no-one including her granddaughter knows why. Ella’s behaviour becomes more and more obscure and no-one around her knows why.

The historical storyline was very interesting. The story switches back to 1912 where we meet the Cadence family of Cadence Manor in the village of Priors Bramley, mostly through a series of journals – author initially unknown. We also flashback to Ella’s childhood and an incident on the day the village closed.

Other reviewers have complained about Rayne’s writing style in this and I do agree with some of the comments (e.g. it is quite slow in places). There are four storylines in this book and it is quite complicated how it is held together. Normally Sarah Rayne’s writing style is much sharper, darker and more dramatic. However, I did enjoy the storyline non-the-less. Also, the main character in this book Ella is not very nice, normally Rayne has a really strong protagonist who you champion throughout the book whereas this character isn’t. I did enjoy Rayne’s experimentation with this technique but I think having a main character that you dislike isn’t always an easy sell to other readers.

Overall, I still really enjoyed this book, not as good as others she has written but still very clever, particularly the historical storylines. For those that haven’t discovered the Sarah Rayne’s writing, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. Although the dark dividing (standalone novel) is my favourite out of her books. The Nell West series she writes is also very good. This is more of a 3.5 from me but as that option isn’t available and a 3 felt very mean I gave it a 4.

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Review of The Bell Tower By Sarah Rayne (Nell West #6) – 4 Stars

The Bell Tower: A Haunted House Mystery (Nell West/Michael Flint, #6)The Bell Tower: A Haunted House Mystery by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #6 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “Deadlight Hall”. In this story, Nell returns as the primary character with Michael returning to the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed the author’s ability to switch back and forth making two strong protagonists, that’s strengths differ and keep the series fresh and alive. Returning to Nell’s perspective as a primary character gave this story a new refreshing take and also allowed Nell as a character to really develop more. It was also interesting that Nell’s daughter Beth featured a bit more in this story and is a little more grown up in this book. Great use of character progression.

In this story, Nell has bought the shop next door and is working on and extension. When some old plaster is removed Nell finds a hidden message on the wall referring to someone called Thaisa. This leads Neil on a chain of discovery where she uncovers a link with a village in Dorset (where her daughter is holidaying this summer), a mysterious piece of music called Thaisia’s song and a derelict bell tower with a silenced bell. The story is told from a variety of historical sources and also from the view of an old woman living the life of a recluse. She is desperate to protect her family’s secrets at all costs.

As with all Sarah Rayne books, her plotting is brilliant, she lays many, many, threads for the reader to follow and then brilliantly weaves them all together. It did take me a little longer than normal to get into this book. I think there was a little less mystery than others in this series and this was quite a dark storyline. I do like that Rayne still experiments in her writing and tries out many characters’ viewpoints.
I think Rayne has done a great job of developing Michael and Nell’s personal relationship too. For returning readers it is handled very well and the progression can be seen, but it’s also not distracting and confusing for first-time readers. For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. The books are well written and well plotted and the historical details are always interesting.
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Review of Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #5) – 5 Stars

Deadlight Hall (Nell West/Michael Flint #5)Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #5 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “The Whispering”. In this story, Michael takes the forefront of the strange circumstances with Nell becoming more of the second character and completing the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed the author’s ability to switch back and forth making two strong protagonists, that’s strengths differ and keep the series fresh and alive.

In this novel, Rayne also continues along the war theme, this time it is Nazi Germany that is the focus. To be honest the book blurb captures the essence of this story better than I could word it: Leo Rosendale’s childhood was blighted by a macabre tragedy in the grim Deadlight Hall – twin girls vanished, their fate never discovered. What took place there, one long-ago midnight? Michael and his fiancée Nell are unprepared for the shocking truth.

The historical sections of this novel really stand out, very well researched and enjoyable. The novel takes us through various histories of Deadlight hall from the 1870s, the 1940s war evacuation, and then into modern times. The story from Leo’s childhood being the most dramatic of the three storylines. I absolutely love the description of the old house and the wartime era, rules and superstitions captured in this novel really made the storyline vivid.

I think Rayne has done a great job of developing Michael and Nell’s personal relationship too. For returning readers it is handled very well and the progression can be seen, but it’s also not distracting and confusing for first-time readers. Although I would recommend reading the series in order, I think the users could read out of order without too much of a worry. For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie.

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Review of The Whispering by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #4) – 5 Stars

The Whispering: A haunted house mysteryThe Whispering: A haunted house mystery by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel continues as entry #4 in the Nell West series and we catch up with Nell and Michael a little after the events of “The Silence”. In this story, Michael takes the forefront of the strange circumstances with Nell becoming more of the second character and completing the secondary research investigation role. I really enjoyed this shift of perspective and think it brought some freshness to the Nell West stories.

This story follows Michael visiting a reclusive old lady Luisa Gilmore at Fosse House in Norfolk. After viewing her collection of papers the ill-fated Palestrina choir, a storm hits and Michael is forced to take refuge and stay the night at Fosse House. Something Luisa is not overly keen on him doing. When he spots a young man lurking on the grounds of the house things begin to take an even stranger turn.

The secondary historical storyline for me is more intriguing than the ghostly presence of the modern storyline. There are various historical threads but it mostly follows a young man’s story of the first world war and his discovery of the beautiful Palestrina choir in a Belgium Convent. His desire to free them from the impending forces heading their way.

This young man’s story and all the connecting weaving threads that Rayne puts in are just phenomenal and actually quite beautiful.

The setting of Fosse House and the remote isolation provides all the dark brooding atmosphere required for any ghost story. Yet, Rayne’s description of the war imprisonment camp for me provided the more intriguing settings and all the goings on there made me really root for the characters involved.

This is just a great story. It’s not all dark and ghostly. It’s not all mysterious and menacing. It’s just a really great, enjoyable, intriguing storyline. With lots of odd-shaped puzzle pieces that fit together very well by the time you reach the end.

For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. 

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Review of The Silence by Sarah Rayne (Nell West #3)– 4 Stars

The SilenceThe Silence by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nell West returns in another historical mystery. In this novel Nell is invited to Stilter House to catalogue its contents. Nell takes her daughter Beth along with her as it was Beth’s deceased fathers childhood summer home. Immediately Nell gets entangled in uncovering the past and the truth about the mysterious Isobel Acton.
This story is the third in the Nell West series and differs from the previous Nell West novels in that the historical plot is mostly revealed through the use of old documents, letters, diaries and the odd newspaper cutting. I think this format worked really well and was very intriguing as a reader to follow.
For me, Rayne’s writing really shines during the historical timeline. Edmund and his relationship with his father is brilliantly described and very believable. The characters Jack and Samuel were also really interesting and how each character’s story knitted together was brilliantly tantalising right the way through the story.
As with all Sarah Rayne’s books I have read, the settings and atmosphere are excellently written and the reader can’t help but be absorbed into the dark and mysterious environments.
The only minor downside in this novel was the modern storyline takes a very minimalist approach with Nell only really being there to discover the historic story. I do think Nell and Michael are both really great characters and would have liked a little more of them in this book (particularly Michael who was so interesting in the Sin Eater).
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. As a few others have mentioned it did take a little longer to get into that previous books by Sarah Rayne but I think that was mostly due to the historic storyline being revealed in a different manner. Once you get into it though, it is really intriguing and I must say I really enjoyed the outcome.
For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie. 
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Review of The Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne – 5 stars

The Sin EaterThe Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second of the Nell West series by Sarah Rayne (Property of a Lady being the first) and whilst they still have the historical fiction and modern day interlinked storylines that Rayne seems to do brilliantly, they aren’t quite as dark and unnerving as her standalone novels (such as House of the Lost). I did make the mistake of not reading the stories in the correct order and whilst this doesn’t detract too much from the story as it’s quite strong on its own, I do wish I had read them in the correct order as I think the character development of Nell and Michael is such a good minor storyline and would have been better to have read it in the correct order.

In the modern storyline we go with antiques dealer Nell to a Large London house. We meet troubled Benedict Doyle who has inherited the house from his great-grandfather. Benedict finds the house the house disturbing and soon finds himself having troubled dreams featuring the previous occupant, but the events he is dreaming about seem so real. When these dream events are revealed to Michael Flint (Oxford Don who featured in the first novel), his interest is piqued and he starts to research the historical facts behind Benedict’s dreams.

The second storyline for me, made this novel and is why I’ve given it five stars. The story follows Declan and Colm whom move from their Irish home to London city and get caught up in a situation and a world that they never expected to find themselves in.

Other reviewers have complained that Rayne’s writing style has changed with the Nell West series and whilst I agree she has reduced a lot of the darker elements of her writing, I think if anything she has increased the mystery elements of these novels. The storylines are very sharp, intricate and clever, this one surrounds a chess piece yet it is so well written you cannot help but get swept up in the storyline.

I also think Rayne’s characters are evolving, in this novel you really feel sorry for Benedict; his mental condition and how he is suffering as he tries to split what is real from what is imaginary. I actually finished this book a little while ago but the story and characters still feel very vivid and I think that is a sign of how well the story has been told.

For those that haven’t discovered the Nell West collection, I would suggest these novels are quite similarly written to Phil Rickman’s work; old story exposed, great characters and slightly eerie.

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