In 1910, eleven-year-old Iris Villarca lives with her father at Rawblood, a lonely house on Dartmoor.
Iris and her father are the last of their name. The Villarcas always die young, bloodily. Iris believes it's because of a congenital disease which means she must isolate herself from the world.
But one sunlit autumn day, beside her mother's grave, she forces the truth from her father: the disease is biologically impossible. A lie to cover a darker secret.
The Villarcas are haunted, through the generations, by her. She is white, skeletal, covered with scars. When a Villarca marries, when they love, when they have a child - she comes, and death follows.
When Iris is fifteen, she breaks her promise to remain alone all her life, and the consequences are immediate and horrific.
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Intricate and terrifying
Rawblood reminds me of Woman in Black - it has the same kind of menacing presence haunting the protagonist, but I don't think I've ever read/listened to another book quite like this. The non-linear narrative makes it challenging to follow but it's very much worth the effort.
The narrators drew me into the story and characters in a way that only a human voice can. There are scenes that I think would have felt merely melodramatic in print, but that the audible narration brought to life, making the tragedy of Iris's life seem real.
The story builds toward a climax that I never saw coming. Toward the end I began to suspect the origin of the ghost/curse. When the reveal comes, it's like a dam bursting, a torrent and there are so many emotions one after the other it's almost disorienting. You wouldn't get that effect in print, where you can pause for a moment or put the book aside.
It is a challenging read - the story takes place in multiple time periods, overlapping and twisted together. It's not a book to listen to while driving or doing something else you need to concentrate on: you'd miss important details. But if you have a long flight or commute, it's perfect.
- Caroline Marks
Gets dull after a while...