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Thank you Atria/Emily Bestler Books via Netgalley for providing me with an early copy of this book!
I’ll start by saying, I haven’t read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It has been on my to-be-read list for years, but I haven’t yet gotten around to it. I found this new tale (Bellman & Black) by Ms. Setterfield in either a Netgalley email or a pre-approval from Netgalley (sorry, I don’t remember which). I took a look at the synopsis and thought it sounded great so I added it to my queue and have been really looking forward to it ever since. However, it fell a little flat for me I’m sad to say.
The story begins with young cousins, including our main character, William Bellman, out with their catapults (for those who aren't familiar with the term think slingshot). Young Bellman makes an unbelievable shot that kills a rook and everything is off to a very intriguing start. The story continues with the rook offering much information about them and their ways of life - Setterfield definitely seems to know her rooks! And they are, of course, black. The story hinges on all things dark, black, mysterious, and death-related.
From here the story progresses through Bellman’s life – he’s handsome, he marries, has children, becomes the hotshot of the family business though he is not technically family and the elder Bellman actually doesn't want him around. Everything looks perfect for Bellman and readers may start to wonder, why all the good luck since the opening scene, the synopsis, and all that surrounds this novel leads one to believe that Bellman should be meeting some harsh times. Well, they do come and much happens to bring Bellman’s life into spinning chaos. And let me say, Setterfield's writing is artful and beautiful. She writes Bellman and his situations with wonderful clarity, but other than the writing, I just got lost.
At this point readers will be expecting the ghost part of the story to reveal itself and for things to take a very gothic and dark path. In some ways that is very much what happens, but it is all very subtle and anecdotal. I’ll admit the book makes readers think – what is the price of happiness? What is the cost of the decisions we make? However, it led to a rather boring read for me. The author spares no detail with rooks or the textile industry that’s for sure, but it doesn't make for much of a read. Other than Bellman, many of the other characters aren't very well developed so when hard times fall or deaths come to fruition, readers aren't too concerned. I kept waiting to feel creeped out or shocked or even invested in the story and it just didn't happen.
I’ll also share a little confession. I actually felt as if I missed something because the book fell so flat for me. So I read many reviews to see if I can find some nugget of what I might have misread or misunderstood, but nope, there was nothing. The novel is character driven, but the characters aren't given enough color, life, or development. Bellman does get developed and readers will see him pass through many stages, but again, he’s the only one and it simply wasn't enough to sustain the novel. The rook and his counterpart in the book, Mr. Black, also get some development, but I found it all to be vague and confusing. I never really saw the connection between Bellman’s first acquaintance with the rook (him killing one with a lucky shot off his catapult) and Mr. Bellman and his life – it never tied together in my opinion.
There were just a lot of undeveloped opportunities and holes left in this story (at one point in the story readers meet a young woman who is battling grief herself, but again, no development – she’s a minor character that readers will expect to make some difference; some statement, but after finishing, I was left wondering why even introduce her into the story). By the end I felt confused, underwhelmed, and like I’d missed out on a great story (because the premise has some serious promise).
I was provided with an ARC of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I am not compensated for any of my reviews.