Book reviews - Darien, Empire of Salt; The Roanoke Girls; Then she was gone.

Darien, Empire of Salt, by Conn Iggulden; The Roanoke Girls, by Amy Engel; Then she was gone, Lisa J

Darien, Empire of Salt, by Conn Iggulden; The Roanoke Girls, by Amy Engel; Then she was gone, Lisa Jewell. - Credit: Archant

Escape into a whole other world… Kate Houghton reviews the latest releases with which to while away the hours

Darien, Empire of Salt, by Conn Iggulden

Darien, Empire of Salt, by Conn Iggulden - Credit: Archant


Darien, Empire of Salt, by Conn Iggulden


The city of Darien stands at the weary end of a golden age. Twelve families keep order with soldiers and artefacts, spies and memories, clinging to a peace that shifts and crumbles. The people of the city endure what they cannot change. Here, amongst old feuds, a plot is hatched to kill a king.

I have never been a reader of novels from the fantasy or SciFi genres, but I am a big fan of Iggulden’s historical novels and his name was enough to encourage me to try this new departure for him.

It has a slow start, with quite a percentage of the story dedicated to setting the scene and introducing the main characters, which I found a little slow going. However, once the story gets moving it’s fast and furious and as clever and gripping as all his other work.

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Every character is finely drawn and you soon connect with them, willing your heroes on to success and, in my case, actually shedding tears when we lose a favourite.

Darien is sufficiently not-of-this-world to satisfy the lovers of fantasy and sci-fi, but equally has enough parallels with our own world to enable those of us who don’t love the genre to make the connections we need to satisfy our own perhaps more staid imaginations. Little nods and subtle references to our reality are very pleasing, in part because you recognise the cleverness of the author in doing so and in part because it’s nice to feel at home, sometimes!

The Roanoke Girls, by Amy Engel

The Roanoke Girls, by Amy Engel - Credit: Archant


The Roanoke Girls, by Amy Engel


The Roanoke girls seem to have it all. But there’s a dark truth about them which is never spoken. Every girl either runs away, or dies.

A gripping tale of secrets and secrecy, of family silences and the harm they can do, The Roanoke Girls is an unputdownable novel which uses the reader’s own moral code to build a creeping sense of horror until it reaches its climax.

Our lead, Lane, comes to Roanoke at age 15, streetwise and aware, yet still unprepared for the power wielded at the family farm, from where every girl child has fled or died. It’s a place of ecstasy and misery, of comfort and hopelessness, from which escape can never truly happen.

It’s a morality tale for today, perhaps; an instruction for those of us on the outside to withhold judgement, to be aware of the myriad of currents within any relationship, even those we deem to be wrong, so very, very wrong.

It’s not an easy read and certainly not one for lovers of love or romance. It is however a book that sits with you for a long time, demanding consideration. I recommend it to anyone who admires great writing and storytelling and for whom a happy ending isn’t a requirement - although, at the risk of throwing out a spoiler - is appreciative of one when it happens.

Then she was gone, Lisa Jewell

Then she was gone, Lisa Jewell - Credit: Archant


Then she was gone, Lisa Jewell


THEN: She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

NOW: It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter.

And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet.

As a mother of a teen girl I found the premise of this book quite terrifying and disturbingly possible. Ellie’s sudden disappearance and the effect this has on her family over the next decade is beautifully told. The story then starts to wander into something darker; a secondary insanity, directly connected to the first. At this point we enter into a little more far-fetched territory, but hey...who’s to say this couldn’t happen? Stranger things have.

The tension ramps up as the novel progresses and the use of diary style entries from other protagonists is a clever solution to what would be a tricky wholly first person account. The reader is taken from heartbreak to hope via a series of twists and turns worthy of the best thrillers and finally, to a satisfying, if not ‘happy’ ending.