The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
Let’s get the comparison out of the way: yes, this reminds me a bit of The Night Circus. Too much so in a way, as it’d be hard for any book to live up to that sort of comparison.
The book is engrossing, and very well-written. The premise is fascinating, and it’s got a librarian/archivist as the main character – always a plus to this former librarian. As much as I enjoyed the book (and I did enjoy it), ultimately it fell a little flat at the end, and I found myself a bit disappointed in it overall. However, that’s partially because it started out so well, and pulled me into it so completely, so the ending stumbles were jarringly unexpected.
I generally liked the alternating time lines (I usually do), although I wanted a bit more closure with the historical story. That was a very minor complaint however.
A bigger issue for me is that while I wanted to like the main character, I never fully connected with him, and some of his antics horrified me (that would be the librarian in me coming out). Having Simon be the narrator also removed some of the tension and connections of the past – it’s all about the women in his family, and the threat to his sister felt too removed.
Despite these small issues, overall I liked it enough to recommend it, It’s not a GO OUT AND READ THIS RIGHT NOW sort of recommendation, more of a “if it sounds appealing, you should definitely give it a try” kind of recommendation. And a heads-up to keep an eye on this author: this is her debut novel, so I’ll be watching to see what else she writes in the future.
And, if you’re at all curious, there’s a fun book trailer for it:
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.
One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.
As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?
In the tradition of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, The Book of Speculation–with two-color illustrations by the author–is Erika Swyler’s moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.
Title: The Book of Speculation
Author: Erika Swyler
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
Disclosure: I received this book for free from NetGalley for review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!