Review: The String Diaries / Author: Stephen Lloyd Jones / Publisher: Headline / Release Date: Out Now
“Verify everyone, trust nobody, and if in any doubt, run.” With a story based on sinister Hungarian folklore and a plot that jumps between past diary entries and present-day narration, this supernatural thriller reads like The Thing by way of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with all the pros and cons that such a description entails.
In the present, Hannah Wilde and her family are hunted by an unnatural creature, fighting for survival. Through a series of decaying diaries bound by string she traces the creature back through five generations, learning what drives the monster referred to only as Jakab. I read the whole novel in one sitting, so it isn’t all bad, but my overall feeling about The String Diaries is that this could have been so much better. The author reads like somebody that wants to borrow common themes and tropes from the horror genre without any great appreciation of the genre itself. This means that despite some supernatural elements, the novel is very much a thriller.
As the plotlines begin to converge it all just starts to feel too familiar, as if the Watcher’s Council from Buffy the Vampire Slayer were gatecrashing the end of the Twilight Saga. The human interest and the love elements carry the plot and humanise the characters, but when so many lovers are killed off you begin to feel disconnected to the survivors, who have little going for them other than their relationships. The deaths themselves are brutal enough, and have impact, but the characters very rarely have enough interesting facets to make you care about them individually.
Call this a callous review from somebody overly invested in the genre, but I LOVE horror, and I want to read original voices, not more retreads. The String Diaries gets points for an interesting premise and strong female protagonist, but stumbles in the execution, with cookie-cutter characters, too much fantasy and not enough grit. If you’re looking for a little menace in your thriller, then give it a go, but well-read horror fans should give it a miss.