Book Review: WAKENHYRST by Michelle Paver

Title in white on indigo with vines curling from the corners, along with leaves, red flowers and a dragon
Genre: Historical (Gothic)
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3.5 stars
Series: Standalone
CW: Miscarriages, Domestic abuse (sexual)


Book cover for WAKENHYRST: title in silver on purple below a old manor house

1906: A large manor house, Wake’s End, sits on the edge of a bleak Fen, just outside the town of Wakenhyrst. It is the home of Edmund Stearn and his family – a historian, scholar and land-owner, he’s an upstanding member of the local community. But all is not well at Wake’s End. Edmund dominates his family tyrannically, in particular daughter Maud. When Maud’s mother dies in childbirth and she’s left alone with her strict, disciplinarian father, Maud’s isolation drives her to her father’s study, where she happens upon his diary.

During a walk through the local church yard, Edmund spots an eye in the undergrowth. His terror is only briefly abated when he discovers its actually a painting, a ‘doom’, taken from the church. It’s horrifying in its depiction of hell, and Edmund wants nothing more to do with it despite his historical significance. But the doom keeps returning to his mind. The stench of the Fen permeates the house, even with the windows closed. And when he lies awake at night, he hears a scratching sound – like claws on the wooden floor…

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


WAKENHYRST is a book about fear, superstition, and guilt. It definitely fits into the Gothic sub-genre (turn of the century, old house, strange happenings), though the atmosphere wasn’t quite as creepy as I was expecting.

I think part of the fact that I didn’t find it creepy was because of how I viewed the events. Maybe if you read it as the events actually happening, you might find it more unsettling. However, I read it as an exploration of what guilt and an inability to accept the consequences of your actions as being YOUR actions can do the human psyche, particularly when one is obsessive. Maud’s father was willing to accept any far-fetched story his mind made up, connecting various ideas to create devils rather than accept he was ever in the wrong (and not someone chosen by God.)

The Father was a very icky man – willing to twist everything to fit the narrative of him being the hero. The book reflects ideas of the age its set into through his character. A man is struggling to concentrate and depending on laudanum? Clearly, he’s not getting enough sex and it’s right to take a maid to bed however he wants because it’s in the interest of his health. (There are many other examples, but I think it’s best to put the most overt and icky one so you can decide whether you want to read through a book where the man is a misogynistic predator.)

This book is multimedia – a mix of diary entries and narration, with some letters at the start too. It was interesting to see both Maud and her father’s perspectives, to see how they both reacted differently in fear. It never made me sympathetic to him – his actions made him firmly a villain, albeit one you see all too regularly in real life – but seeing into his mind showed just how much his pride and conviction in his own righteousness had warped him. It was a good character study.

In all, it was an engaging read, but I think my interpretation of it all being in his head undercut it a bit for me, draining away the atmosphere.

Read my reviews of other books by Michelle Paver:

Middle Grade:

Wolf Brother:

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