Sarah Northwood, The Unravelling, 2017
Sarah Northwood’s The Unravelling is a prequel of sorts to her novel The Volunteer. The Unravelling introduces us to Ryan, a secluded and afraid teenager who has recently lost his mother in a fire, and to Jennifer, one of Ryan’s teachers. From there on we follow two stories, despite their brief and obvious connection. Ryan, who also has a strict and abusive father, undergoes sessions with a psychiatrist to deal with his issues, but eventually gets hypnotised by Doctor Hollins, and becomes under her command.
Ryan’s arc throughout the novel is really well done; from the quiet young boy we are introduced to in the first half to the hypnotised and violent young adult we get in part two (after going two years in the future). Going two years in the future shows the final product of what Doctor Hollins has been working on and it makes you sympathise with Ryan, despite the heinous acts he commits throughout the novel. It is very tricky to have a villain who you can sympathise with and almost feel sorry for as you watch them attack people, but Northwood manages this very well.
On the other side we are introduced to Jennifer and her partner Greg, who move in together shortly after the novel commences. Jennifer is a teacher with no real concerns until she receives a piece of paper through her letter box containing one giant letter and a phrase. While this is interesting in itself, it also brings on one disappointing aspect to Northwood’s novel: the size. Because it’s a relatively short novel we do not get to explore each of the following four pieces of paper (which each contain one letter and ultimately spell out a word). Instead we go from a mildly concerned teacher (after the first letter) to a worried teacher (after the fifth letter) then to a woman who is housebound due to fear and a complete nervous wreck (as we jump two years into the future). This arc of Jennifer’s would have been nicer to see unfold with each incoming letter.
Northwood’s narration throughout the novel is very clear and easy to read, though at times there does seem to be a slight issue with commas; some places needed a comma and some places had an unnecessary comma. However they didn’t deter too much from the reading experience. The only other concern was because of the ending; much like Kent Wayne’s Echo Volume 1 (read that review here) this novel’s ending suffers slightly due to the nature of their sequels. Wayne’s plan seemed to use Echo Volume 1 as a sort of set-up for the rest of the series, while The Unravelling was written as a prequel, written to explore characters from The Volunteer in a little more depth. This meant the ending seems a little flat; however, like with Echo Volume 1 if this helps create a better sequel then it can be a worthwhile option to utilise.
Overall The Unravelling is an interesting thriller novel, setting up the (possible) trilogy it is part of, and while it served a purpose to flush out some more details on the backgrounds of characters in The Volunteer, it can stand on its own two feet as an independent novel.
Final Verdict: An interesting introduction to the world of Ryan, a character I am interested in reading more of, with plenty of secrets left unanswered.
*Buy it on Amazon here*
Other Works by Sarah Northwood:
Unicorns are Real and Other Cool Poems