Sundial by Catriona Ward

Review by Brennan LaFaro

Catriona Ward burst onto the scene last year with The Last House on Needless Street, though authors familiar with Ward’s work in the longer term will tell you they have been waiting on the world to discover this hidden gem. One would assume Ward felt some pressure to match the reception of Needless Street in her follow-up from Tor Nightfire. So, does Sundial measure up?

In a word, yes. From page one, Sundial creates a startlingly unsteady atmosphere. The reader understands that things are amiss, and through the perspective of multiple first-person narrators and time periods, we are only being spoonfed select portions of the story. Ward takes her time peeling back the layers, making the looks behind the curtain hit even harder once she decides to pull it back.

The premise is wholly unique, though simple enough to describe. Following an incident, Rob whisks one of her daughters, Callie, away to her childhood home of Sundial, drawing the ire of her husband and leaving him with his mistress and their other daughter. Once Rob and Callie arrive, we learn more about the sordid history of Sundial. The synopsis doesn’t give away much, and that’s for the best. Go in as cold as possible, because the art of the discovery is a key part of what makes the story succeed.

Mild spoilers for both Needless and Sundial, but with the author’s penchant for unveiling secrets, she ran the risk of Shyamalan-ing. That is, making the story too dependent on the twists and forcing the reader into a position where they spend too much time in an attempt to guess. Ward avoids this trap with grace. The characters engage the reader to the point where we can’t help but be drawn into their lives. We want to find out what happens, of course, but we’re content to remain a fly on the wall, whiling away our time with these imperfect characters.

Catriona Ward took the horror genre by storm with The Last House on Needless Street, but she has cemented herself as consistent and daring with Sundial.

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