namely, the achievement of a new life will justify whatever means she needs to employ to get there. After escaping from the factory where her father works, she spots a chance to steal the boarding passes of a mother and child. She uses her father’s words, “all will be forgiven”, to justify this sin. But Rosanna’s subsequent boat trip is plagued by worries about how to maintain the lie she used to get on board. Then, when it seems she has solved her dilemma and all ahead might be plain sailing, the ship reaches its destination – but not the one the passengers expected.
Rosanna now finds herself more of a prisoner than ever, shipwrecked on a quarantine island which no one ever leaves alive. The existing inhabitants are lost and desolate, but Rosanna becomes aware of something even more terrifying on the island: within the walls live creatures less than human and more terrifying than any nightmare. They stalk the corridors after dark, ready to leap upon anyone foolish enough to be wander around at that time.
For a horror story, I found the beginning very weak and without any real sense of pervading threat. The men in the factory chasing Rosanna made me tense, but only briefly. The sailors in the tavern were dangerous louts, but none of them threatened Rosanna. Most chillingly, there was the silent yet seemingly omniscient captain of the boat. Yet all of these threats are transient and come to nothing. It’s not even as if they are problems set up for the protagonist to overcome to show her strengths; they just happen around her, intending to create atmosphere, but only really creating frustration when they fizzle out.
Blake Snyder believes that stories need a “save the cat” moment: towards the beginning, the main protagonist performs an act that not only defines them but also makes the audience root for them – such as saving a cat. Rosanna’s first independent act is to steal boat tickets from a mother and daughter and through that act she lost my sympathy. Yes, she was in pitiable circumstances but she relied only on her father’s mantra of “all will be forgiven” to justify her actions and showed no remorse. I kind of felt at that point that she deserved everything that surely must be coming to her. The irony at the end of the novel that her act of theft ultimately saved the mother and daughter from a terrible fate came too late for my sympathies.
After an uncertain start, Rosanna’s boat journey really drew me into the story. I admired the fact that the writer took time to have Rosanna go through the strengths and weaknesses of her hasty plan to “invent” a baby; it’s always satisfying to see a character deal with the flaws of a plan. And Mike Jones managed to capture brilliantly the tense atmosphere on the boat, one that is charged with both hope and despair at the thought of what the destination might hold.
But it is when Rosanna finally reaches the island that the book starts to pick up. I was a little disappointed that while the reader is told what the island is, no on ever seemed to tell the characters – they just knew. The reason this disappointed me was that I would have loved to see how the passengers reacted to the news of where they had landed. Such reactions would no doubt have been varied and interesting. And as a result of this omission, the immediate suicide of one of the passengers held little poignancy for me. However, credit to the writer for making the scene where a child’s death is uncovered a true tear-jerking moment.
I enjoyed following Rosanna’s journey of terrifying discovery around the island. By now, Jones had found his groove so that the atmosphere, the scenery and the character tensions were worthy of a great horror novel. I found Rosanna’s relationship with one of the guards particularly fascinating, and I was both surprised and pleasantly unnerved when it didn’t go along the predictable route I thought it was heading.
The idea of unseen creatures in the walls was truly chilling. Like most horror stories, the fear ebbed a little when the creatures were finally revealed, as the true form is never as frightening as the one in your own imagination. But credit to Jones for managing to recapture that terror of things unseen even after they were revealed. I’m not ashamed to say that I gave my dark staircase a wide berth when I went to bed after reading this part of the book.
I don’t like to give major spoilers in my reviews, and it would be difficult to describe in detail the end of the book without doing so. Suffice to say that Rosanna is told a way of overcoming and defeating the creatures in the walls, but she doesn’t understand it. This is where my sympathy with the character began to ebb again, because personally I could see what the resolution was a mile off, as I’m sure many other readers could. When this happens, the conclusion of the book goes one of two ways: either you turn the pages faster, eager to see how the protagonist uncovers the answer, or you end up yelling in your head at them to figure out what you already know. I’m afraid I went with the latter. When Rosanna finally figures the riddle out, her “defeat” of the creatures is well-written, but what follows after feels a little predictable.
I felt the title was a bit of a misnomer. Yes, “the mothers” do play a key role in the book, but it’s not a large role and isn’t clear what it is until two thirds of the way through. My guess is that Jones intended Rosanna’s character to go from an insular, self-serving one who steals from a mother and daughter, to one who protects the children she discovers, which would add another layer of meaning to the title. Yet even at the climax, when the writer beautifully describes the forlorn, frightened children in the rain, looking to Rosanna for guidance, she runs off to uncover a lost item. In the circumstances, we might all have run off to find the said item, but you will not find a true mother who wouldn’t take the children with her, or at the very least offer them some words of comfort before she takes off. While Rosanna might have been changed by her experience, she still fell short and that disappointed me. I felt that either she should have been self-serving to the end and at least retained her integrity, or she should have been fully redeemed; halfway is nothing at all. And yet, up until that point, I had believed her redeemed and had been rooting for her.
As I said at the beginning, this book was mixed. The ending was too predictable to make me want to read it again, but I would certainly put a bookmark at the start of the middle section. If you want something that makes you glance anxiously at all those dark corners in your house, or makes you start awake at unfamiliar noises in the night, then reading about Rosanna’s time on the island will certainly do that.
THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR FICTION REVIEWS