Book Review: Perfectly Preventable Deaths
Perfectly Preventable Deaths
Written by Deirdre Sullivan
Published by Hot Key Books
Publication date: 30th May 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
Everyone in Ballyfran has a secret, and that is what binds them together…
Fifteen-year-old twins Madeline and Catlin move to a new life in Ballyfran, a strange isolated town, a place where, for the last sixty years, teenage girls have gone missing in the surrounding mountains.
As distance grows between the twins – as Catlin falls in love, and Madeline begins to understand her own nascent witchcraft – Madeline discovers that Ballyfrann is a place full of predators. Not only foxes, owls and crows, but also supernatural beings who for many generations have congregated here to escape persecution. When Catlin falls into the gravest danger of all, Madeline must ask herself who she really is, and who she wants to be – or rather, who she might have to become to save her sister.
Dark and otherworldly, this is an enthralling story about the bond between sisters and the sacrifices we make for those we care about the most. For fans of Frances Hardinge and Laure Eve.
The world isn’t predictable at the best of times. But if you’re scientific about it, then all the strangest things can be explained. Maybe not right now and not by you, but always there’s a reason. You can divide things into true and false, proven and unproven.
Analysed, predictable, if not preventable.
The more you know, the more that you can do to make things right. Knowledge is a real-life magic power, gathered up like spells to use in time.
Vinegar, a candle. Salt and sage. There’s always been a comfort in the tangible. In things you can gather around you. Hold. We all have little talismans to cherish.
Beech for wisdom. Elm for your throat.
The things you hold – they will not keep you safe though.
In the end, there’s not a thing that can.
First impressions: As soon as I heard that this book was coming out I was desperate to get my hands on it – thank you so much to Tina Mories at Hot Key Books for sending me a proof copy!
Here are 5 reasons why I knew I had to read this:
- I absolutely LOVED Tangleweed and Brine (see my gushing review here!), plus everything else I have read by Deirdre Sullivan. I would read anything she writes!
- The story is set in Ireland. I always love stories set at home, because they’re so familiar. I’ve spent years being told that my Hiberno-English is ‘dialect’ and so it feels really nice to read/ hear characters speaking the way I and and my friends do!
- This story has witchcraft and supernatural creatures – if I weren’t already sold by the simple fact that Deirdre Sullivan wrote this, I would be sold at that!
- It is set in an isolated town where everyone has secrets…but if it’s anything liek where I grew up, everyone is very interested in everyone else’s business!
- The story is centred around twins. I love sibling relationships in books, so I am looking forward to seeing how this book explores that bond.
So, once I actually had my hands on a coveted copy, did it live up to my expectations?
Short answer – yes! It completely blew all of my expectations out of the water. So much so that I could hardly find words for my initial review on Goodreads, simply saying:
Whoa! I expected dark and twisty, but this was so much darker than I had expected. Masterful writing, intriguing mystery and family ties make this a compelling read.
The story is narrated by Madeline, the more introverted of the two twins and I feel like most readers will be able to relate to her awkwardness straightaway. Her banter with her sister, Catlin, and their relationship with their mother was so warm and realistic, right down to the bickering and in-jokes. It was really great to see parents and parental figures as very present in the story, as there is often a trend in YA for the parents to be absent or uninterested; in this story the twins’ mother is involved and alternatively supports and gets in the way of her daughters as they begin to navigate the strange small town of Ballyfran.
The tension in this book is built up slowly, with small drops of menace eventually building to a mixture so dark and potent that I was shocked. Each character presents as harmless, but has hidden depths and I truly had no idea who I could trust.
Strangely, I found Mamo, the most outwardly uninviting character as the easiest to trust because I felt that she wasn’t trying to hide her intentions (a bit like in fairytales where it is the plain wooden box that contains the best treasure rather than the golden casket).
Brian, the twins’ new stepfather was one I found it very difficult to get a read on. He clearly has some power in the community, which should make him trustworthy, but I felt as if he could have done more to help when strange things first started happening, especially considering the fact that girls disappearing in Ballyfran is nothing new. I distrusted Lon from the first meeting, but I was unsure how much of that was justified and how much of that was me reading through Madeline’s eyes and her worry that Catlin would leave her behind.
Up until the last few chapters, I had no idea where this story was heading and I was totally gripped. I finished reading in a state of shock as so much happened in such a short time…and I still have so many questions. I doubt that there will be a sequel but I was intrigued by the witchcraft and would love to learn more about it as Madeline practises her powers.
Even if my life goes according to plan. If I work hard, do well, I can’t fix everything.
I can’t just walk away from who I am, from who I choose to be.
I cannot be a witch.
I can’t choose magic.
It is over now.
But in my stomach something stirs and flutters. And it tells me that I am wrong. Things unfinished widen and they grow.
In spite of me. In shadow and untrained.
Magic feels more emotional than scientific. It’s like a series of escalated inklings that end in an outcome, possibly a desired one, but sometimes a surprise.
I’ve been wondering recently why I had to collect things at all. I always felt like I had to keep Mam and Catlin safe. And maybe I always did. But from what? Boyfriends, Husbands, Colds and Flues, and Thieves.
The world’s a terrifying place all by itself, without the risk of monsters, magics, Gods.
What I liked: The setting in rural Ballyfran, especially in an old castle immediately made this creepy even without all the strange things that kept happening. I loved Madeline and Catlin’s sibling/ twin bond and how they looked out for each other in different ways. Each chapter starting with some information about a plant added to the mystery, especially as I started to see connections between it and what happened in the chapter. Mamo was a brilliant character and I would read another book about her. I also loved that Madeline is an unapologetic introvert and how her sexuality is just one aspect of her, rather than this becoming a book about her coming out.
Even better if: The pacing is a little uneven and the scenes of mutilated animals were disturbing to read so could put off some readers. I wanted more of the magic and less of the darker side of human nature. I finished reading with so many questions!
How you could use it in your classroom: I would recommend this for any library catering for older teens, but would caution against using it in the classroom unless the teacher using it has read the book first. Know your students as there is a lot of disturbing imagery and allusions to potentially-triggering events. For older readers, this could be a brilliant book to study in order to learn how to build tension and create atmosphere.
(Thank you to Hot Key Books for my proof copy!)
What did other readers think?
‘Sullivan has an eye for the uncanny, a taste for the macabre, and a gift for beautiful prose. Perfectly Preventable Deaths is her best book yet.’ Louise O’Neill
‘This is the novel the recent Sabrina reboot wishes it could be – a thrilling, eerie exploration of sisterhood, first love and dark powers hiding out of sight.’ Dave Rudden
Ross from @ The Royal Bookshelf said:
“There are authors who write with gorgeous prose. There are authors who are beautiful storytellers. There are authors who conjure incredibly unique and fully-fleshed characters. Deirdre Sullivan is all three.”
Chloe @QuothTheBookLover said:
“Overall, this book was an incredibly descriptive and unique read and I feel that a lot of people are going to absolutely love this. If you love dark, atmospheric books then this is for you.”
Thanks for reading!