REVIEW: THE HOUSE OF WAR AND WITNESS / AUTHOR: MIKE CAREY, LINDA CAREY, LOUISE CAREY / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
We’ve come to expect something unique from the Carey family. Their previous work, The City of Silk and Steel was refreshingly different and their latest offering carries on this fine tradition by being delightfully odd. It also has the same sort of set-up as the last book, it combines an unusual setting with an excuse to tell multiple tales from different perspectives, all weaving into one another to form a single powerful narrative.
In 1740, Europe is on the brink of war. A small company of Hapsburg soldiers garrison themselves in an old and dilapidated mansion house called Pokoj, handily located on the Prussian border. The local village is filled with resentful and suspicious villagers and the soldiers themselves are hardly the most charming of gentlemen. Everyone is tense as war could come at any moment and much of the story focuses on a young camp follower called Drozde whose skills include puppetry and getting what she wants. Her other talent is the power to see and communicate with the dead, something that is more of a curse than a blessing.
The story is thus steeped in history; each ghost has a story to tell and these provide snapshots of different moments in time. The narrative is therefore not just limited to the 18th century and these elements of well-defined exposition add an additional thrill to the over-arching plot. Though it lacks the exotic flavour of The City of Silk and Steel, this is made up for with subtle horror and extra special creepiness.
Sadly, the Carey’s insistence on delivering a history lesson with every tale softens the impact of the narrative. Each individual element is deliciously creepy and sombre but the story as a whole suffers from the constant jumping about. It’s hard to care too much about many of the characters when you know that they’re already dead. The two main living characters, Drozde and a rather hapless soldier called Klaes, are interesting enough but both seem just a little too flawed and a little too strange for the reader to care that strongly about them, making it feel like something critical is missing.
Overall this is a fine example of what the Carey’s are capable of, yet it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. It is by no means bad, it just doesn’t sparkle as brightly as it could do. Fans of 18th century ghost stories and those who enjoyed The City of Silk and Steel will not be disappointed, however.