BLOG POST: A diamond has been hiding in plain sight

By Anna Johnson, 2024
Unraveller – Frances Hardinge

A diamond has been hiding in plain sight on the shelves of the Red Lion bookshop and I must sheepishly admit that I was late in noticing it.  I’ve just emerged from the world of Unraveller, and it was enthrallingly imagined, intricately plotted and
heart wrenchingly humane.

As a child, Nettle is cursed to spend her life as a bird, a lonely heron. Kellen, an Unraveller, releases her from this fate and she becomes his companion, and moral compass. In Raddith, the ability to curse is a gift granted by the ‘Little Brothers’, a spider-like race of creatures. One of the many delicious conundrums of the book is the ambiguity of the curse, and its role in a ‘level-headed’ land that would rather forget the ‘strange, vast and perilous’ marsh woods on its borders. The novel delves fearlessly into the nature of hatred and the ways in which power can be abused. Kellen’s ability to unravel curses, and cure the afflicted makes him
valuable. When he and Nettle are recruited by the government to find out who is freeing dangerous cursers from a secure hospital, they turn detective to track down the villains – amongst whom is the curser who has it in for Kellen.

Hardinge has woven a mesmerising world where nothing is quite as it seems; where the unravelling of the truth plays out against a backdrop of haunted watery wilderness alive with all manner of mysterious and terrifying creatures. Gall the Marsh horseman is our heroes’ guide, but he is far from reassuring, ‘ if a stone lion had found a way to look human.’

The spiky dynamic of Kellen and Nettle’s relationship is delightfully witty and Hardinge’s prose sublime. Nettle, for example, is ‘a young woman with an old woman’s careful gravity, and then an old woman with a quiet, fey blaze like a winter sky.’ Kellen is the chaos to her calm and when he himself starts to unravel, the duo’s detective work becomes even more fraught with danger – treachery awaits them at every turn and the uncanny tug of the Wilds is irresistible.

This is a book full of wonder and gothic creepiness, breathtakingly propulsive but threaded with humour and humanity. At its heart, it is a story of redemption and friendship.

I urge you to plunge into Hardinge’s world – do it now!!