Snakewood by Adrian Selby
Snakewood is a difficult book to review and for that reason I’ve sat on this for a few days to see how my feelings developed and gather my thoughts. To be honest this was one of my most anticipated books of the year. I love the description and the cover and was so excited to pick it up. Now, up front, I can say that I didn’t love this – but, I didn’t hate it either and I think it’s definitely a book that improves as you read. It just takes a little while to settle into the style.
The story in a nutshell. We have a bunch of ‘used to be’ mercenaries. Kailen’s Twenty were the toughest and most badass mercenaries for hire. They could sway the outcome of a battle and accordingly demanded a weighty purse. Until one day Kailen decided to break up the team and they all went their separate ways. A few of them still work in the field, a few teamed up and are still for hire – a few are turning up dead, each found with a black coin. And so Kailen puts out a call to round up the rest of his former team hoping to gather them together before any more of them are picked off.
The story is told from a number of POVs in the form of field reports and personal accounts and from these snippets we begin to put together a picture of what really happened and why the Twenty are now being assassinated one by one.
So, the good and the bad. The good was the concept of plant like mixes that enhance the mercenaries and others who use them. I’m not sure if this is intended as magic but for me it felt more like drugs. Drugs that improve sight, strength and speed. Cocktail combinations that can be thrown into the middle of a fight to create a fog or poison one’s opponents. And, of course, the come down from the use of these substances. I found this quite fascinating particularly the long term effects on the users. Plus, I thought the idea of a recipe book being so powerful in determining who wins or loses. I thought the storyline was compelling in that I was fascinated about who was assassinating the Twenty and why and I really got into the main two characters that we followed of Gant and Shale. The othe character that really gripped me was Sand – his story is really good. He’s not a pleasant character for sure but he’s very well drawn.
The bad. Well, this story is very difficult to get to grips with and I would say that I didn’t really become hooked until at least 30% of the way into the book. There is a lot of to’ing and fro’ing between POVs and timeline and this combined with certain narratives that are very poorly written and turns of phrase and words that felt alien definitely make the start of the story a struggle. However, once I got past this point I thought the story definitely picked up. The individual chapters became longer which was a big help as it made it easier to settle down as opposed to the earlier chapters that were quite choppy. Now, when I say poorly written above let me be clear – I don’t mean that the author has poorly written them but that the narrator isn’t terribly articulate himself. I can see why the author chose this route, it definitely gives those elements of the story a real feel, as though the person is speaking directly to you, on the flip side of course it takes a little getting used to the style.
Personally, I would say that the book is worth the effort. I thought it was a good read with some very intriguing aspects although I must add that this book is very brutal and there are scenes of torture that you may find unpalatable.
On the whole I am pleased that I pushed through the earlier chapters. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I’d had an idea what the story was about before I started whereas I feel now like I’ve probably missed some aspects during the earlier chapters due to my own confusion.
I can see that this is a divisive book and I can understand why. It’s not a book that I’m going to say I adore because whilst I can appreciate the reasoning behind the style of writing I think personally I would have enjoyed it more if it had been a little more straightforward. It’s not a book for the faint hearted and I don’t think it’s going to be a book that people say is ‘beautifully written’ but if this sounds like it could work for you then just stick with it through the earlier chapters.
I received a copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.