I read The Leviathan before going to sleep and that night dreamt the creature featured in the story was in my bed, thrashing around next to me. In reality, it was my 4 year old but it shows you the power of a book when it infiltrates your dreams! This is a truly evocative slice of historical fiction.
Opening sentence: She is awake.
So, if you’re looking at this book’s title and wondering: what is a leviathan? Well, it’s essentially a mythical sea-serpent, and yes, it does play a key role in this story that has a dark, Gothic feel overall.
Set in Norfolk and told in two time frames (1643 and 1703) – the time-shift works to give us both present and past versions of what’s happening. Detailing the events leading up to things and a more reflective tone in the present, 1703 narrative.
Thomas Treadwater is our narrator and what starts as a tale of witchcraft becomes something far more sinister. Thomas’ sister, Esther, accuses one of the housemaids, Chrissa Moore, of bewitching their father. When his father then dies, Thomas takes it upon himself to find out what’s really going on before Chrissa is hung for witchcraft…
The tale is one I scarce believe myself. I hardly think you will credit it.
The Leviathan… I’ve heard of it
Yes, depending on your knowledge or love of 17th century literature, you might be familiar with Thomas Hobbes and John Milton‘s talk of the leviathan. Go back even further and there’s a reference in the Bible:
‘And what of the Bible?’ There are sea creatures in the Bible. Powerful ones.’ Milton looked troubled. ‘You refer, of course, to the leviathan.’
In this story, poet John Milton is actually our lead character, Thomas Treadwater’s tutor. It’s done so well and an example of one of the brilliant ways real people and events blend with fiction so well here.
The Leviathan has a very different pace to a lot of books I’ve read recently. It did take me a little while to get into, but I’m so glad I kept reading as I fell into its rhythm and liked the nostalgic traits in its syntax. This translated into longer, descriptive paragraphs and a slow sense of menace that builds.
This really is wonderfully crafted historical fiction, mixing myth into reality and absolutely catapulting you into a world where that could happen. It pulls just enough from real people to make it even more interesting. The wonderful writing and pulsing, Gothic tone meant I was totally hooked.
- Get your copy of The Leviathan here
- Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
- Published by Raven Books 3rd February 2022;
- 320 pages;
- My rating: