Title: The String Diaries
Author: Stephen Lloyd Jones
No. of Pages: 432
Origins: Mulholland Books
Release Date: 1 July 2014
Bottom Line: Weak ending but nonetheless thrilling and intense
“The String Diaries opens with Hannah frantically driving through the night—her daughter asleep in the back, her husband bleeding out in the seat beside her. In the trunk of the car rests a cache of diaries dating back 200 years, tied and retied with strings through generations. The diaries carry the rules for survival that have been handed down from mother to daughter since the 19th century. But how can Hannah escape a shapeshifter with the ability to look and sound like the people she loves?
Stephen Lloyd Jones’s debut novel is a sweeping thriller that extends from the present day, to Oxford in the 1970s, to Hungary at the turn of the 19th century, all tracing back to a man from an ancient royal family with a consuming passion—a boy who can change his shape, insert himself into the intimate lives of his victims, and destroy them.
If Hannah fails to end the chase now, her daughter is next in line. Only Hannah can decide how much she is willing to sacrifice to finally put a centuries-old curse to rest.”
Thoughts: The String Diaries opens with a bang, and the intensity never diminishes as the story progresses. Hannah’s fears and anxieties are palpable, even as readers do not yet understand the reasons for them. In that aspect, it is a spectacular bit of writing – one that creates empathetic characters with absolutely no backstory or character building. More importantly, the story remains strong and intriguing as readers begin to understand more of Hannah’s family history. The switch between Hannah’s present, her father’s past, and her enemy’s metamorphosis solidify the plot. These narrative shifts also provide necessary answers and create a plausible backstory to match the fear and passion of the current story.
Unfortunately, for all the fantastic build-up towards the ultimate showdown, the ending does not quite live up to expectations. It is suspenseful and powerful, which is satisfying in its own way. However, the story’s resolution may strike readers as too happy to mesh with the rest of the story’s gritty nature. The psychology of Jakob’s descent into madness, the sheer desperation of Hannah, the fate of certain characters as the story unfolds are gritty and as realistic as one can get when talking about shape-shifters. The ending may have gratuitous violence, but there is also a fairy tale quality to it that diminishes everything that previously happened.
All complaints about the ending aside, the rest of The String Diaries is fantastic. While this does make the ending so much more dissatisfying, it also makes for the type of novel that is virtually impossible to put aside for something else. Lloyd Jones’ writing is superb as he captures the trauma of having a stalker willing to do just about anything to succeed at his end game. His characters are somewhat one-dimensional but quirky enough to overcome that deficit. He makes up for the lack of character development with a superb psychological element to this thriller, as the ramifications of Jakob’s actions transform not only him but his prey. Well-written in spite of its weak ending, The String Diaries is a strong debut novel that entertains as well as highlights Stephen Lloyd Jones’ potential.