Review: Shepherd’s Prayer; Katja Willemsen

Intriguing suspense-thriller; 3.5 stars

Source- a free copy was provided to me by the author in exchange for a review

Published by Amazon Media EU S.à r- 2012

Kindle- 344 pages

For me the setting of this book was a definite winner: mysterious, ancient caves hidden deep underground in the beautiful French Pyrenees. How could anyone resist? Factored into that is the fact that this is also a suspense novel- one of my favourite genres.

This is the story of Raisin Radcliffe and her older brother Geoffrey, who stumble upon a labyrinth of prehistoric caves, ‘The Grotte des Loups’ whilst hiking in the mountains. A shadowy cult also has an affinity with the caves, and when a local boy is kidnapped by the sinister group, Raisin and Geoffrey are pulled into the fray. In this tale involving sacrificial wolves and macabre rituals, will Raisin and Geoffrey be able to help the boy- and save their own lives?

The narrative of this story flowed well and was fluidly paced, which combined with the vivid sense of place and well portrayed characters, made it a very readable story overall. I liked Raisin (Sarah) as there was some sense of mystery as to why she had left behind her regular life and escaped to France in the first place, which kept me turning the pages. She was a strong, likeable protagonist and I was keen to know more about her and what made her tick. I liked her references to ‘Matt’ and their relationship and I looked forward to learning more about him. Raisin’s connection with the tribeswoman was instantly appealing as well- I was intrigued as to how this would all play out later in the book.

There are a lot of themes interwoven in this novel, including that of complicated family dynamics and romance, as well as the more suspenseful dramatic aspects already mentioned. I feel that these were well balanced and sensitively handled and that setting the drama and tension against the wild mountainous backdrop made for some nice symbolism within the storyline itself. I was fascinated by the shamanistic rituals and the atmospheric descriptions of the caves, as well as the appearance of the mysterious tribeswoman whom Raisin did not know whether she was a figment of her imagination or not.

There were a couple of parts of this story that I didn’t enjoy as much however; I didn’t particularly like Geoffrey and actually found him quite irritating with his constant impetuousness and violence. Though this is later explained and more information to his background is given and he becomes a more sympathetically drawn character, I still didn’t like him and his bullish actions detracted me somewhat from the main thread of the story in places. Though in this respect it is of course good that a character can bring about emotions from the reader, I think in this case it wasn’t intended to be that character.  By contrast however, I enjoyed reading about the sinister cult leaders- they were just the right degree of creepy to be completely chilling, not to mention loathsome!

The final few chapters bugged me just a little bit: circumstances revolving around Raisin and Geoffrey’s mother and her actions towards them as children were seemingly left completely unresolved. After instances covered throughout the narrative it felt as though that was leading somewhere and it would have been assuring to see some sort of solid confrontation in there from Geoffrey at least. Given the seriousness of her crimes I very much feel as if she ‘got away’ with her abhorrent behaviour which (for me, personally) wasn’t a positive message. Should there be another book about Raisin, I would hope this would be further explored as there are so many more ways in which Raisin could be utilised as a protagonist.

I would definitely welcome reading more books by this author in future; particularly should the settings featured be similar to this one, as her love of the place itself really shines through; cults and all, it really made me long to head to France and do a bit of hiking amongst the beautiful landscape. I would also really like to see Raisin’s story continue!

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