“Winner of BEST HORROR NOVEL (August Derleth Award) at British Fantasy Awards 2016
For generations the Villarcas have died mysteriously, and young. Now Iris and her father will finally understand why…
At the turn of England’s century, as the wind whistles in the lonely halls of Rawblood, young Iris Villarca is the last of her family’s line. They are haunted, through the generations, by ‘her,’ a curse passed down through ancient blood that marks each Villarca for certain heartbreak, and death.
Iris forsakes her promise to her father, to remain alone, safe from the world. She dares to fall in love, and the consequences of her choice are immediate and terrifying. As the world falls apart around her, she must take a final journey back to Rawblood where it all began and where it must all end…
From the sun dappled hills of Italy to the biting chill of Victorian dissection halls, The Girl from Rawblood is a lyrical and haunting historical novel of darkness, love, and the ghosts of the past.”
My Thoughts: Catriona Ward’s The Girl from Rawblood almost defies description as it crosses generations, characters, and locations. It is part haunted house/ghost story, part social commentary, part family tragedy. It is all of those things and somehow none of those things. There is plenty to disturb and plenty to sadden. There is even more to make you question your sanity and wonder what is happening. The general sense of unease crystallizes into a sense of horror as the pieces fall into place, leaving you to marvel at what Ms. Ward accomplishes.
Iris Villarca is only one of the characters at the heart of this tragic and compelling story. The story starts and ends with her, but along the way we touch on the lives of her ancestors and how they are each affected by the family curse. Just what the curse is remains nebulous, as are the reasons why the family is cursed, but that does not stop the terror from filling you when “she” makes an appearance. Much as one builds a lasagna, each member of the Villarca family adds another layer of understanding to the mystery of the curse and to Iris’ predicament. Theirs is not a happy story by any means, but there are snippets of brightness and love that ease some of the tension and reminds you that to give up on love means to give up on life.
The Girl from Rawblood is not a horror story in the Stephen King sense of the word. There exists violence and danger throughout the story; there is gore as well. Yet, it is not as assertive as King’s novels. With few exceptions, the violence is subtle, mostly off-screen and referenced in passing. The gore is less subtle, and there are some scenes involving medical testing that will turn your stomach. However, the sense of overriding fear that some of King’s novels cause remains lacking in Ms. Ward’s. One can still consider the novel horrifying but not for the reasons one expects when considering a horror novel.
Given all of that, and for many more reasons, it is no wonder that The Girl from Rawblood won the 2016 prize for Best Horror Novel at the British Fantasy Awards last year. Ms. Ward takes the traditional ghost story and turns it on its head with her cross-generational family curse. She also infuses the story with more concrete examples of horror – the kind humans can instill on each other. Combined together it is a novel that entices and horrifies readers, all the while allowing them to marvel at the genius twist on the genre Ms. Ward uses to create a novel that is similar to so many other novels but in the end so completely different from them all.