Kate’s Review: “The Girl from Rawblood”

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Book: “The Girl from Rawblood” by Catriona Ward

Publishing Info: Poisoned Pen Press, March 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print copy from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: At the turn of England’s century, as the wind whistles in the lonely halls of Rawblood, young Iris Villarca is the last of her family’s line. They are haunted, through the generations, by “her,” a curse passed down through ancient blood that marks each Villarca for certain heartbreak, and death.

Iris forsakes her promise to her father, to remain alone, safe from the world. She dares to fall in love, and the consequences of her choice are immediate and terrifying. As the world falls apart around her, she must take a final journey back to Rawblood where it all began and where it must all end

From the sun dappled hills of Italy to the biting chill of Victorian dissection halls, The Girl from Rawblood is a lyrical and haunting historical novel of darkness, love, and the ghosts of the past.

Review: Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me a print copy of this novel!

Even though I hadn’t heard of Catriona Ward until I read “The Last House on Needless Street”, that was hardly her first literary and horror story rodeo. Her actual debut novel is “The Girl from Rawblood”, an award winning Gothic ghost story that is now being re-released. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of the new edition just in time for an out of country trip that ended up with me sitting on an unplanned layover in Phoenix, as I needed reading material to get through the injustice of it all. I do love going back and seeing previously overlooked debuts of authors I like, as usually it’s fun to see the growth. Well in this case, there wasn’t much growth to be had, and I mean that in the good way. In many ways this doesn’t read like a debut, it reads like a seasoned Gothic author.

The brightest bit was the slow build up and world building of ‘her’, the curse that has been tormenting and killing the Villarca Family of Rawblood for generations. I love a rage filled ghost, and this one was giving me serious “The Haunting of Bly Manor” Lady in the Lake vibes. Ward really does have a talent for really freaky and tragic imagery in her stories, and I really liked just how creepy this curse was, mostly because we do get some is it real or is it not unreliability due to flashbacks of the frantic and frenzied Alonso, Iris’s father who has sheltered her in hopes of saving her, when his isolation of her seems just as terrible in her mind. In true Gothic fashion we are left to wonder if perhaps it’s Alonso’s madness due to generational trauma, romantic loss (more on that soon!) and grief that is the real culprit. But ah, this is Catriona Ward, so ultimately this is, indeed, a haunted house story. But there can be many hauntings, both of the past and ghostly kinds.

There is a lot of time jumping and historical fiction genre exploration in this as well, and that is ultimately what bogged the story down for me just a bit. Firstly, though, the good: I do love a historical Gothic novel with lots of melodrama and angst, and lord knows this book is frothing with it. This is Ward’s debut novel, and in a lot of ways it is a VERY impressive debut, as she has a lot going on and generally knows how to juggle all of it. But it is also a bit bloated, at least for me, in how much we are finding ourselves exploring. We have Iris’s story as she tries to push back against her father’s pleas to never fall in love, but we also go back to see Alonso and his medical school friend/forbidden love interest Charles try to approach this curse as though it is hereditary and more illness based, and see how their relationship grows and deteriorates and ends in, you guessed it, horrible tragedy. And THEN we also jump back to previous Villarcas and family members who have lived in Rawblood and the terrible fates that befell them, and I think that the out of order and abrupt jumps and shifts were a bit too jarring for me.

But having said that, it’s great that “The Girl from Rawblood” is being rereleased, because Ward was showing literary prowess with this as her debut, and prowess as a horror author at that. It all started here.

Rating 7: An eerie premise and an unsettling ghost story, “The Girl from Rawblood” is a chilling historical Gothic tale, though at times the jumps in time dragged a bit.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl from Rawblood” is included on the Goodreads lists “Gothic Historical Fiction”, and “Dual Time Mysteries”.

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