Posted in Fashionably Late Reviews :)

Review: The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

Solid. Gnawing. Heartache.

Toby’s life was perfectly normal… until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House: an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.

No one returns from the sanatorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes.

Because everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.

The concept of this book is what drew me to it. I was pulled in by the mystery and the bleak prospects (sorry, sometimes I’m a sadist when it comes to fictional characters!)

It’s got such a fantastic premise, but I’m not entirely sure it delivers.

What worked?

The setting. This was well detailed and planted into the narrative. The ‘death house’ itself almost became a character on its own, it had that much presence on the page.

The characterisation, as a whole, was solid and I built a good picture in my head of each member of the cast, both primary and secondary.

The lust and the love; this was well played, I thought. The protagonist, Toby, has some dirty little thoughts, but they were honest and fit his character and back story. I thought the way the relationships were built and then broken down throughout the story felt very real.

What didn’t work for me?

I struggled to really connect with Toby. I felt like he, and most of his mates, were just passively reacting rather than taking any action. If it wasn’t for Clara coming along and shaking up their whole world, would they have just accepted their fate? That said, I didn’t like Clara that much either. If Toby was flatlining, she was just hyper, all the time.

The other characters sometimes felt like they strayed into being ‘typecast’, rather than being individuals unto themselves. And maybe that is just because we see them as Toby sees them. But you have the clever one, the childish one, the bully, the girl…

I did think Toby was a well rounded character, and there were elements to his narrative that I enjoyed. For instance, his habits and rituals were great little details, and I liked his almost morose and cynical outlook, but I didn’t really care either way what happened to him. To be honest, I was kind of hoping he got sent to the sanitorium, just so I could see what it looked like and find out what was really happening.

And that is my main issue with this book, methinks. I was left with too many questions and no answers. There’s all this mystery and strange circumstances and in the end we’re none the wiser.

I did like the ending though. At first I thought it was melodramatic, but reflecting on it now I think it was the only way those two could end up. Clara surprised me, in a good way, at the end- I didn’t think she had it in her to act like that. I can’t say I understand why Toby did what he did (sorry, trying really hard not to give anything away) but I was glad for Louis.

Louis was the only character I found myself rooting for.

There were some scenes in this book that were so tender and gentle, and yet so heartwrenching, and then there were moments of heightened emotion and believable experience. But for me, the story didn’t really take off until the last third. The writing is clean and tight which makes it easy to read, but for me there wasn’t enough at stake, and too much was withheld. I wanted to understand it all… and I was left with just as much knowledge as I had at the start.

It’s a good read, but it didn’t suit me.

Concept – 4/5

Plot – 2/5

Ending or Twist – 4/5

Character(s) 3/5

Overall – 3/5

(Book bought with my own munnies. Opinions bought by no one.)

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YA writer. Epic reader. Professional procrastinator.

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