It's official: I'm now a hardcore S.J. Bolton fan after reading her second novel, Awakening. It may not be as terrifying as her first, Sacrifice, but what it lacks in terrifying, it makes up for in creepiness--literally and figuratively. It is equally as hard to put down; when I was away from it, I was seriously wishing I was home reading it. I have her third novel at home waiting for me after I finish John Connolly's latest Charlie Parker installment (another equally gripping read). The only disheartening thing is that after Blood Harvest, Bolton's next book, I'll have to wait, impatiently, for her fourth release.
Like Bolton's first book the setting plays an important role in the fabric of the story; it is set in a tiny village in Dorset County, England, which has seen its snake population increase seemingly exponentially and inexplicably.
Clara's a wildlife veterinarian and a near recluse who seeks the quiet solitude of an extremely low key and low profile lifestyle in response to a lifetime of taunts, harassment, and bullying due to a facial disfigurement incurred as an infant. Her physical disfigurement is the result of a horrifying, harrowing, and sickening childhood accident that left her not just physically scarred but also emotionally scarred and damaged as well.
Clara sought out her tiny village in hopes of leading a nearly invisible, solitary life, but five years on, the snake population in the surrounding countryside explodes in scores of mostly harmless grass snakes that turn up unexpectedly in various village homes. However, among the swarms of grass snakes appear a handful of dangerous and poisonous adder snakes and one very deadly taipan snake, native to tropical climes not found in Britain. Thus, it's made clear the appearance of the snakes in village houses are deliberate incidents set in motion by a shadowy, unknown individual with murky motives.
Unwillingly drawn into the mystery, and before long forced to dig for information to clear herself, Clara does some research into the village's past and uncovers a mysterious church fire in 1958 that resulted in the deaths of several individuals and the exodus from the village of a pair of brothers belonging to the Witcher family. The more Clara uncovers the more she is convinced that the Witcher family holds the key to the bewildering past and current events happening in the village. Before long the deaths of elderly individuals with connections to the 1958 fire land Clara in hot water with the local police. When she becomes their main suspect, it's obvious in the interrogation room that the local detectives are convinced she's the murderer largely due to her physical disfigurement; before long the interrogation devolves into a cruel series of taunts from the detectives in one of the most harrowing, tensest, cruelest scenes of the entire book.
This second Bolton book is as much about the mystery of the snakes and the murders as it is about a growing experience for Clara, who will emerge from her self imposed recluse lifestyle by the end of the book. Suspenseful and hard to put down, this book quickly turns into a frantic, fast read.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie