Review: Unraveller by Frances Hardinge

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Published: September 2022
Pages: 496


If you must travel to the country of Raddith, then be prepared. Bring a mosquito net for the lowlands, and a warm coat for the hills or mountains. If you mean to visit the misty marsh-woods known as the Wilds, you will need stout, waterproof boots. (You will also need wits, courage and luck, but some things cannot be packed.)

You have of course heard that some people in Raddith are able to curse their enemies. It sounded so picturesque when you were reading about it at home, like a fairytale.

Perhaps you will decide that all the stories of the Wilds and the Raddith cursers were invented to entertain tourists. And at night, when you see a many-legged shape scuttle across the ceiling of your bedchamber, you will tell yourself that it is a spider, and only a spider . . .

. . . It is not.

In a world where anyone can create life-destroying curses, only one person has the power to unravel them. 

Kellen does not fully understand his talent, but uses it to help those who have been cursed, including his ally and closest friend, Nettle. But Kellen himself is cursed, and unless he and Nettle can release him, he is in danger of unravelling everything – and everyone – around him.

My Thoughts…

Unraveller was my third Frances Hardinge book, and by now I can safely say I’m looking forward to catching up on all her books! As with the others I read, this book was just dark and creepy enough which made it a perfect November read. The world-building was also spot on, with the main storyline enriched with little nuggets of local lore, customs and magical creatures. I alternated between the e-book and the audio version for this, and I have to say it worked beautifully: the audiobook narrator in particular did a spectacular job bringing all the characters to life!

The plot was very original and definitely highly engaging: in the land of Raddith, anyone who strongly hates another person may curse them and only one boy, Kellen, has the power to unravel curses. Kellen himself is cursed, however, and unless he can learn how to unravel his own curse, he risks destroying everything and everyone around him. The story soon starts to show its multiple layers and, just like a complex tapestry we follow a thread at a time until the whole picture is clear before our eyes. The author does a great job weaving and unweaving the tale and the luscious, atmospheric setting plays a big part in that.

As Kellen and his friend Nettle journey across the land, they engage in a series of quests, unravelling various curses as they go. Pretty soon, it started to feel as though we were deep in a cycle of travel, quest, curse, unravelling and repeat. Although some of the places they visit and the characters they meet were fascinating, it did start to feel a little repetitive at times, and there was an almost endless parade of secondary characters who were introduced and left so fast I struggled to keep up with them. Sadly, this also meant I didn’t really grow attached to any of them so that, when a few made a further appearance at a key point later on in the book, I was mostly unfazed.

This was really a shame, as in contrast I liked the main characters very much! Both Kellen and Nettle were unique, complex and deeply flawed and I loved them both so much for it. Their friendship and loyalty to their other friends and family members were an absolute delight to read about, and I really appreciated how they were called out on their mistakes and worked to put them right. There was real character growth here, which made me even sadder that it was limited to the main characters only.

Unraveller is a perfectly creepy read, perfect for readers who are looking for vivid settings and original world-building, despite the story dragging on a bit in the middle.

CONTENT WARNINGS This book contains mentions of death, curses, emotional abuse, violence, forced institutionalisation, blood.

Rating: 3.75/5

Four butterflies to indicate rating.

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