Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine Cavendish
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The year is 1913 and Adeline Ogilvy makes her way to Vienna, after accepting a career opportunity to transcribe the memoirs of the late Emeryk Quintillus. Rather than being able to settle down and do her work however, strange occurrences draw Adeline's attention, and soon she finds herself caught in a wicked scheme that involves the wrath of a God.
(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.)
I purchased this one after I noticed the monthly Horror Aficionados group read, and even though it's not the latest installment of this series, what’s better than starting at the beginning? I’ve always found Egyptian history interesting; it seems to be depicted as glamorous, mystical, but also somewhat scary, what with all that mummifying shenanigans. It’s a perfect setup for horror, obviously, yet before I delved into Cavendish’s cleverly researched work, I hadn’t seen much of the theme. Perhaps it’s not as sought after as the more typical haunted houses and zombies, yet either way, I was ready for some Cleopatra goodness. What followed was a relatively light read that rhythmically drew me in and pushed me away.
The first part of the story revolved solely around Adeline, whereupon she temporarily relocated to Vienna for work. This is where I found myself impressed with the writing, and how quickly I was pulled into the mystery surrounding the Quintillus household. As Adeline explored the darkest recesses of the manor, I was thrilled to join her in each new, chilling discovery. I thus believed that this had set the scene for the entire book, but was heavily disappointed when that wasn’t actually the case. The much enjoyed “one character against the world” was turned upside down when another was introduced, that being Professor Jakob Mayer. I have no issue in admitting that I thought he possessed an ulterior motive throughout, as he didn’t seem quite right - he’s the one that offered all the answers, that had Adeline follow him around as he took charge with an unusually calm demeanour. Upon progressing through the story, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing nefarious about him, and that somehow felt wrong to me, as if he was merely shoehorned in to move along the plot at a much quicker pace. There’s no question that I would have remained invested had Adeline been left to figure it all out on her own, without being guided so obnoxiously.
When part one (by far the longest section) ended and I was thrust into the lives of strangers, I lost interest to a certain degree. It was jarring, to say the least, that I had to leave behind the woman I became so fond of, but I understand the intention of the plot was to span decades. It’s always a risk, to implement such long jumps of time and have a flawless transition, and in this case it just didn’t work for me. I felt disconnected, and, suffice it to say, I was glad when Adeline eventually reappeared.
The supernatural aspect, that was more to do with the effects of a curse than anything else, proved to be entertaining, but certainly nothing even remotely scary. Let me explain when a horror becomes less and less impactful for me personally - it's the matter of showing too much, to the point where I'm desensitised. I experienced no sense of dread and not a modicum of tension after that green light surfaced for the tenth time; sometimes less is more, and I firmly believe a lot of books would benefit had the author kept this in mind. There's also the issue that danger wasn't sufficiently conveyed - sure, there were a few deaths, but at no time did I worry for the well-being of the main character.
In conclusion: I really thought I was going to love this one, but the story went in a direction that failed to maintain my interest. To put in bluntly, I would have preferred the focus remaining upon Adeline, of whom I liked very much. Straying away from her, and bringing in a character that overshadowed her, just didn't appeal. That said, it wasn't all bad, hence the average rating I decided upon. Will I pick up the next one though? I'm really not sure.
Adeline forced herself to admit something she had suppressed for over fifty years. Those terrifying weeks in Vienna had left an indelible impression on her. For weeks, months, even years afterward, she would wake screaming in the night. She would see Emeryk Quintillus's mummified skin and eyeless face.
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