3 out of 4 stars
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Chanctonbury is an exciting, suspenseful, and poignant fantasy novel written by Natasha Murray.
Six individuals, each deep into his/her own preoccupation fortuitously meet at Chanctonbury Ring, a circle of beech trees on top of a hill in South Downs. The hill is rumored to be haunted and inhabited by The Devil who either offers a bowl of soup to ‘his guests’ or takes it upon himself to grant them the greatest desires of their hearts.
Sarah Brunning is a kidnapping victim who just got back from Afghanistan after six months of captivity. Evie Merryweather has been travelling around Southern England for sixty years carrying a shopping bag searching for the perfect place to scatter the ashes of her lover. Tom Barns is a widower who is burdened by the weight of his guilty conscience. Michael McGrath is a mentally unstable former soldier who is running from a crime he is not sure he did not commit. Amy Warren is a victim of an abusive boyfriend. Nabeel Azizi escapes from Afghanistan hoping to seek asylum in England.
After recognizing Nabeel as one of her captors in Afghanistan, Sarah flees as fast as she can and comes across Amy. They are joined by Tom and Evie who are looking for a spot to scatter a tin can of ashes. When Nabeel catches up with Sarah, Michael comes out of hiding and manages to keep Nabeel in an armlock. Tom is about to call the police when a tsunami hits and keeps the six of them stranded on the hill.
The book is told in the third-person perspective and maintains a steady pace throughout the story. By presenting the main characters complete with their backstories early on, the author makes the book particularly intriguing and keeps the readers’ interest at a high level. The plot is unraveled through a series of fantastical and vividly described scenes as the author throws each character into his/her own story seemingly unrelated with those of the others. This technique heightens the excitement as the author expertly brings the scattered characters together in emotional and liberating sets of reunion.
The most important aspect of the book, for me, is the focus on human weaknesses. It makes the book very relatable. The author successfully depicts the fear, the longing, the guilt, the frustration, the disillusionment, and the hatred, among others, that people feel. It brings up the regrets they harbor for the wrong choices they made and the self-loathing they feel for being weak. It highlights the great desire of an individual for a chance to make things right.
The part I like most about the book is the unpredictability of the plot. The unexpected turns of events make the readers feel outwitted by the author time and again.
Overall, this is one enjoyable book. However, other readers may find the constant time-shift a little overdone and extremely confusing instead of stimulating. Moreover, there are noticeable grammatical and typo errors within the entire book.
I, therefore, rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. It is intriguing, exciting, suspenseful, and relatable. I recommend it to fans of fantasy novels.
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