Rash's masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that, at its core, tells of love both honored and betrayed. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)
Review: There is a lot to be said for traveling back in time through a book. In the hands of a good author, a book can take you directly to a different time, a different place, or a different memory. However, if the author is not quite on his game, the illusion can fail. (Think the whole penny scene in Somewhere in Time, but maybe not so extreme.)
Ron Rash is a master scene-setter. Wherever the scene he was crafting took place, I felt like I was stepping through the pages of the book into wherever he was taking me. It was easy to get lost in the scenes, and I appreciated it. It made me want to keep reading.
Unfortunately, the story itself did not grab me as much as I had hoped. I admit that this is a personal preference, but I feel like characters in the story need to have at least one redeemable quality, however slight, to make them believable. I have never met or studied any individual who doesn't have at least one good quality. Rash's characters, both the titular Serena and her husband Pemberton, are wholly without any such quality. Not even their love for one another can be counted, as they both plot against one another mercilessly. It's hard to feel bonded to a character that just screams UNREAL.
This absolute lack of humanity completely halted the story for me. I didn't understand the motivations, I didn't care about the setbacks. Their triumphs and defeats were hollow and two-dimensional, and it ruined Rash's mastery of the setting. Even the ending, which I could tell was meant to be heart-racing and shocking left me feeling like I could FINALLY put the book down and walk away. After starting the year with such grabbing books, this left a poor taste in my mouth.
Rating: One and a half stars
For the Sensitive Reader: Murders, gore, violence, nudity ... while all fairly tastefully handled, these are wholly corrupt characters, and their actions define that.