Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

Bellman and BlackBellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget…

Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a difficult book for me to write a review for, even after taking some time to sit back and figure out what I wanted to say. Obviously, if you are a fan of the Thirteenth Tale and Diane Setterfield, then you were likely as excited as I was to see Bellman & Black.

This book started out as more than I could have hoped for. In the first few pages I already found myself captivated by the telling of an incident in the main character’s childhood that was both a bit magical, a bit frightening and set the stage for what I had hoped would be a truly incredible book.

There were many parts of this story that I did thoroughly enjoy. I loved the names for groups of rooks that were included at the end of certain chapters.

I loved William Bellman’s character until about the time that Bellman & Black actually opened. At this point, it seemed to me his actions had become a bit redundant and that he may not be a strong enough character to lead such an elaborate story. There seemed to be a disconnect between the William that built such an empire and the William that reaped the rewards, although I am not sure if that was intentional.

The death of his family did not play as big of a role in his personality change–or at east was not as highlighted as I might have expected it to be. The relationship with his wife and his great affection for her was mentioned multiple times, but her death passed by with barely a mention devoted to his feelings on her loss.

I loved that William was a smart enough character to take the negative events earlier in the story and capitalise on them to make himself a successful business. This being said, when his rise to fame and the building of B&B was such a focal point of the story, it seemed odd to me that his reaction to success was so lacking of any real fire. It was like looking at two different characters at the same time, in some spots.

I loved the mystical quality of the writing in this novel. From beginning to end, it never lost the Gothic feel and the story did have some unusual twists and turns.

Where this book lost me somewhat was in what the author did with Mr. Black. He began as a truly eerie and mysterious character. I wasn’t sure if he were something like the character Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s “Needful Things,” of if he was part and parcel of the rooks at the beginning of the story. Either way, he showed up at times of great distress and I looked forward to his every appearance. I fully expected him to become a character that really wowed and impressed me. It just never happened. He was more of the smoke that comes from a fire than the actual fire itself.

I was disappointed that he was not more involved in the last half of the story.

I did really enjoy the character of Dora. She was interesting because in some ways she was almost more mysterious than her father. The powerful dynamic between she and her father and the connection between she and rooks made for an exciting thread in the last half.

Overall, this was a book that I did find enjoyment in. The writing was skillful and the plot and premise were original. I won’t forget the characters or the story soon, albeit it did not turn out to be what I had necessarily expected.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher and provided through Netgalley.

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24 thoughts on “Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

  1. This review is why I respect your opinion on books so much.

    I so enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale, and I’ve been looking forward to Ms. Setterfield’s second novel for quite some time. Sounds like it’s going to be a good rainy-day book.

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  2. Sorry this book wasn’t all that you hoped it would be, especially after such great anticipation. It seems that you still found a lot of enjoyable aspects to it though, which is good. I also really enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale, when I read that, after your recommendation.

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    • Thank you, Julian. I feel somewhat responsible for my own preconceived notions in regards to my expectations. Perhaps when you are truly captivated by a certain book, successive releases get judged more fiercely.

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      • I agree. Sometimes when we enjoy a book so much, our preconceptions and expectations are so high that a sequel fails to live up to them, or as you say, we judge it more fiercely than we otherwise would.

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  3. I agree that when we have enjoyed something so much we set our expectations for further releases higher than we would if we enjoyed it less. Our preconceptions then influence our judgement more than perhaps they normally would.

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  4. When I saw you were reviewing this book, I was interested to see how you felt about it. I read it also and the other reviews I’ve read are split, but I agree with you – started out great, but just fell a little short for me.

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  5. Pingback: Bellman & Black- a review | Turn the Page Reviews

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