Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: Fyneshade

Author: Kate Griffin

Publisher: Viper

Fyneshade

Reviewed by: Charlotte Bond

Other details: Paper back £8.88

Fyneshade by Kate Griffin

Charlotte Bond

Writing a novel with a distinctly unlikeable main protagonist can be a bit of a tightrope: make them too unpleasant, and you’ll lose readers. But Griffin manages to pull it off with the help of a great Gothic setting.

On the day of her grandmother’s funeral, Marta finds that she is to be sent away to remove her from her current beau, Nathaniel Van Meeran. Her relatives have secured her a governess position at Fyneshade. But that’s alright because Marta’s magical gifts suggest her destiny lies in this rambling old house.

Upon arrival, Marta discovers that her charge is stubborn and unteachable, so she idles her days away until she meets Vaughan Pritchard, the young, disgraced heir to Fyneshade. Now, her plans grow more ambitious still – just what will she do to become the mistress of Fyneshade?

There are no quivering heroines, desperate for a saviour, in this book. The Gothic atmosphere is dark and well-rendered, and although the plot is a little predictable, the writing is good enough to make you keep turning the pages.

A lot of books rely on the reader rooting for at least one character to win the day, but most of the characters in Fyneshade are pretty obnoxious. The fun of this book is not wishing for one character to succeed above all others but watching who crashes and burns and how their downfall comes about. Griffin is clever at keeping her main characters humanly unpleasant without them straying into the realms of pantomime villains.

Several reviews mention the novel’s similarity to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. It’s obvious to see why that might be, given the ending of the story, but I felt the main narrative was less like James and more like Jane Eyre. The governess. The love affair. The secret wing that hides a shameful secret. To me, this book had closer associations with the Brontë novel than it did with The Turn of the Screw. To be honest, the final scenes (no spoilers, but you’ll see what I mean when you get there) really didn’t do much for me, although the ending itself was satisfying enough.

Although there are supernatural elements to this book, they are very, very minor. There is no hint of a ghostly presence, and the tagline: “In a place where many fear to tread”, seems to relate to the cruel, calculating people associated with Fyneshade rather than any supernatural phenomena. This book is a dark and spooky read, but be warned that it’s a ghost story without a ghost! The lack of a haunting and the downplay of Marta’s witchy attributes seemed to have disappointed quite a few readers, but for me, I found the atmosphere and evil characters quite enough. And certainly, the denouement had undeniable supernatural elements.

I noticed some trigger warnings out there in other reviews for Fyneshade, and I do think it could make an uncomfortable read for some people. Abortion is included as both a major and minor plot point and manipulation of a child with learning disabilities is also involved. Marta’s young charge, Grace, is a child who clearly has something like Down’s Syndrome. Since we see Grace through Marta’s eyes, we naturally see her described with distaste and even disgust. At times, I found this a bit uncomfortable to read. It wouldn’t be different if it were a secondary character who held such outdated views, but since it is the main character, the unpleasantness was very front and centre. Such issues can make Fyneshade a bit of an uncomfortable read for some. But then, many reviewers said, that was kind of the point.

If you enjoyed the atmosphere of Jane Eyre and like your characters as mean as they come, then this is going to be the perfect book for you. With her masterful grip on characterisation, Kate Griffin is definitely a writer to watch.

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