The Order of the Strawberry Circle #1
I read this book as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship where I’m part of Team Jamreads. This review contains my own thoughts and may not reflect the opinion or final rating of the team.
Bad Grains sets out to be a modern-day German Halloween story (it says so in the foreword), and it feels both a bit German and a bit spooky.
What really stood out to me, though, were the rich, vibrant autumn vibes. The rain and the gloom. Fallen leaves and long dark evenings. That feeling of the summer definitely being gone, but winter not quite being there yet. Hot chocolate and warm blankets.
It’s tangible and brilliant, and it brings the story to life.
So what’s a German Halloween story about?
Well, this one is about eleven-year-old Jo who’s brother disappears so completely that barely anyone even remembers him. The only one who knows he’s even gone is Jo herself, so of course it’s up to her to bring him back.
The story includes ancient fae bargains, an old forgotten knight order, and a whole lot of character and atmosphere.
As it’s a novella, it’s a pretty quick read, so I won’t go into further details about the plot and risk ruining the story. I do want to say that it didn’t feel short, and the story was long enough to get invested in.
What I’ll whine about
As a middle-aged single man I have very little experience with kids, but it often seemed to me that Jo might have been a lot older than eleven. That really could just be me, though.
What I’ll gush about
Atmosphere. I mentioned it early, but the feeling of autumn is so very strong in this book, and it makes everything else feel a little more real.
Character. Despite seeming older than eleven, Jo is still a great character. Her interactions with her father and grandmother feel real and believable and it was easy to care for her and her search for her brother.
The German angle. Since I’m not German, I can’t say if the depiction of the small city of Fels is authentic or not, but I can say that it felt authentic. The people, the places, and the culture. More than just the names and the odd German word.
If you want a quick spooky read to get in the mood for the Halloween season, you won’t go wrong with this.