Atria/Emily Bestler Books | 21 February 2023 | 320 pgs
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
What'd you do if you're an aspiring writer who receives an opportunity to attend an exclusive, month-long writing retreat at the estate of your favourite author; never mind that someone has pulled the string for you and that your frenemy is attending the retreat, too?
Alex, our protagonist, is elated when she heard that she'd be attending a writing retreat at the estate of feminist horror writer Roza Vallo, even with the knowledge that Wren, her former best friend turns rival is also attending. There's some history between them and the reader would find out the reason as the story progresses. But, there's more dynamics behind their relationship once they've stepped into Roza’s isolated mansion. There are other three attendees as well and Roza announces that they'd have to complete an entire novel from scratch after their stay and the winner of the best novel will receive a seven-figure publishing deal.
The task seems simple enough, but as Alex gets to know more about the other three attendees (and not to mention facing Wren) including Roza’s erratic behaviour, she begins to wonder why they're selected in the first place. But Alex is adamant to finish the novel despite having writer's block for a while; and through the one-to-one writing séances with Roza she begins to share about her past with Wren and in return, Roza offers some advice about writing and in particularly the history of the Blackbriar estate where they're currently staying.
Alex thinks that as long as she could finish her novel and make it to the top, her life will get better once she leaves the Blackbriar estate. But the writing itself is not the only challenge, Alex soon finds out that the other attendees harbour some secrets of their own and aside from Wren's cruel mind games, Roza’s demands have become more unconventional and worse, unethical. As bad things start to happen within the isolated haunted estate, Alex has to find a way to escape from the place alive.
There're several things I liked and disliked about this debut book. To begin with, I loved the author's writing style and the claustrophobic feel of the setting. The premise was refreshing and the characters were flesh-out and intriguing in their own ways, especially the erratic author Roza Vallo. The first half of the book was good and engaging, but the story started to go downhill when Roza started to show her erratic side and the unexpected genre/occurrences that were mixed in this thriller which had me thinking that the connection was getting further away and lost from the plot, thus the outcome didn't work for me. That said, it was still a good read for a debut novel and I look forward to the author's future releases as I enjoyed her writing style.
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