The Den By Abi Maxwell – A Review

Publisher: Tinder Press

Publication Date: 16th May 2019

It was the dual timeline narrative aspect of this book that drew me in. I LOVE me a dual timeline people! Especially when it is involving one house or area, which this book is.

The Den is the story of two sets of sisters living in a rural town in New England. Jane and Henrietta in the present day and Clare and Elspeth in the mid 1800’s.

The book is split into sections told by each of the sisters and opens with Jane, the youngest out of herself and Henrietta. We learn of their close relationship in the building they call The Den on their property, their childhood games here and their fathers story of the family who disappeared during the Great Freeze, a night when cayotes were apparently found roaming the house with no sign of the family….

Jane watches as her older sister starts to mature in front of her eyes and discard their childish games in The Den in favour of her tempestuous and passionate relationship with a local boy.

When life for Henrietta gets difficult she disappears, leaving Jane and her parents wondering where on earth she can be. Jane is stuck wondering about the comparisons of her sisters disappearance and the family’s disappearance during the Great Freeze. How can people be there one minute and gone the next?

Next we hear from Elspeth, raised in Scotland in the 1800’s, she has to move to New England due to the shame of becoming pregnant at a young age. She moves there to be with her husband when he takes a job at the local mill. Isolated and lonely, with only the company of her three young boys, her husband and a neighbour, Elspeth yearns for a more exciting and fulfilling life. She’s creative and writes as an outlet for her loneliness and isolation. But when Elspeth becomes embroiled in the darker side of the new mill owner an event occurs which forces her hand and sees her disappearing in the dead of night with her family, never to be heard of again by the locals who take it upon themselves to spread word of the families disappearance.

Back at home in Scotland, Elspeth’s sister Clare becomes increasingly concerned when her sister stops writing, so much so that she follows in her sisters footsteps across the ocean to try and track her down and discern the truth about her sudden vanishing and the mythical stories and theories that ensued.

We also follow Henrietta after she ups and leaves her home. How she is determined to leave no trace of herself and leave behind her previous life. How she struggles to set up a new life and learn to trust the people around her.

Henrietta’s chapters were the most engaging for me. There was an air of loneliness and desperation surrounding her but I was willing her on to succeed.

This is a story steeped in myths and legends, and how they translate into modern day life and how correlations can be drawn. It explores themes of not belonging, yearning for a better life, being an outsider in a small community and being judged for your actions.

It also deals with the strength and determination of women and how far they will go to protect their families. I enjoyed the exploration of the relationships and bonds between the two sets of sisters and how each one of the women left behind dealt with the ‘loss’ of their sister.

I also enjoyed the links between the past and present day, how the stories of the sisters were similar but played out years apart and how the threads of the mythical coyote story interwove between the lives of all the women. I love a good legend, particularly when the story is perpetuated through the years until it has become so ingrained in a community that it is considered absolute fact no matter how outlandish it seems.

Abi Maxwell’s writing style is very engaging and fluid. I believe this is her debut novel and it feels like a very accomplished one. I’ll be keeping my eye out for her future work for sure.

Thank you as always to the publisher for the advanced proof copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

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