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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing read
A fantastical tale that is fresh, original, imaginative & absorbing. The story has elements of myth, folklore & fairytale. It is set on am imaginary, isolated island. They have their own unique way with language, & it did feel a bit contrived at first, but once I was drawn into the story, it became natural, & flowed. Fairytale & reality are blurred, for the two main...
Published on 26 Dec. 2012 by Mr. K. Cross

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A rich uncanny novel
Mary Jared lives in a remote island in the far north, where the only contact with the outside world is the 'tall men' who come from the mainland to trade. These men, although necessary, are also feared as their arrivals coincide with the disappearance of island boys. When Mary's brother disappears she deploys all her powers (both natural and supernatural) to try and find...
Published on 30 Sept. 2012 by Eleanor


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing read, 26 Dec. 2012
By 
Mr. K. Cross "keithcelt2" (Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Snake Ropes (Hardcover)
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A fantastical tale that is fresh, original, imaginative & absorbing. The story has elements of myth, folklore & fairytale. It is set on am imaginary, isolated island. They have their own unique way with language, & it did feel a bit contrived at first, but once I was drawn into the story, it became natural, & flowed. Fairytale & reality are blurred, for the two main female teenage characters as well as us, the readers. The islanders only contact with the outside world is when they trade with the Tall Men. This trade is needed, but feared, as their visit coincides with the disappearance of island boys. One of the main characters, Mary, engages in a search for her brother who goes missing, while the other girl featured, Morgan, is practically kept prisoner by her parents, & the story follows her attempt to escape. There are mysteries to puzzle & tantalise you: how did Mary's mother die; what are Morgan's parents afraid of; how can Mary's brother's voice be heard coming from his favourite toy; what is the mystery behind the Thrashing House, the place from where no-one comes back? These & more mysteries are unfolded as the book progresses, & it kept me enthralled. Considering this is a first novel, it is quite a considerable achievement. I always know when I've really enjoyed a book when I feel sorry I have finished it, & this was one such book. Magical!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully woven and embroidered tale, 16 Nov. 2013
By 
Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Snake Ropes (Paperback)
As a début novel, Jess Richards' "Snake Ropes" takes some beating. In it, she conjures a world that is both familiar and yet strange; an enigmatic world built of equal parts enchantment and nightmare, where one's assumptions about things are constantly shown to be false and one's understandings of the way things work prove to be naive. The tale unfolds through the narrative of two alternating first person perspectives, in a style similar to that which the author takes further in her later book, "Cooking with Bones". The approach here allows the reader to come to the tale from two different sides at once, although it takes almost half of the book for the connections between those two narratives to start to be at all clear -- not that this is in any way an impediment; far from it, the mystery of their connection being a major driver, should one be needed, for reading on! The two voices, whilst each echoing something of the other in a haunting kind of way, are sufficiently alien from each other as to maintain an air of separation and of disconnectedness which is tantalising and disconcerting in a way that is maintained almost to the very end of the book.

Jess Richards has a stunning ability to create fantasy which is utterly believable even throughout the more fantastical episodes of her tales. I have not encountered such a masterful blending of folklore, myth and reality, peppered with a health dose of feminist-centric writing, since Sheri S. Tepper at her peak ("The Family Tree" and "The Gate to Women's Country" springing immediately to mind here). She also has a wonderful way with words, and a superb ability to create fantasy settings which whilst very much of this world are also entirely alien. Her prose is both absorbing and immersive; it is always hard to wrench oneself back to the real world from the pages of this book and, when one finally does, the world is somehow more colourless than one remembers it being. Her story arcs are also beautifully constructed, with just the right amount of mystery being cleared up as more is released; each clue revealed along the way doing little more than make the answer even more unfathomable, as each riddle is shown to be wrapped in nothing if not more enigma.

If I have any criticism of this début novel, it is only that a couple of events feel to stutter and slip slightly out of the author's grasp, leaving a little niggle of dissatisfaction here and there at some of the story's outcomes. These can easily be forgiven, however, given the enormous complexity of the weaving involved in this tale and the glorious journey that the story involves.

Unhesitatingly recommended for all lovers of magical realism and of fantasy writing generally.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Completely Original, inventive and stunning, 11 Nov. 2012
By 
Ms. C. A. Anderson "Cassandra220689" (East Kilbride, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Snake Ropes (Hardcover)
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I wasn't sure what to expect, sometimes you pick a book after reading the summary and it's nothing like what you read. This book was like this but in an unexpected and magical way. I felt a feeling that I haven't felt since the Chronicles of Narnia; of otherworldliness and a vivid feeling of fairytale mixed with reality. It's quite magical.

It's clear that Richards' childhood in the Isles of Scotland has been inspiration for the fictional Island setting which carries so much mystery and we travel with our alternating narratives and begin to unravel the mystery and history of the island and of course our characters.

Mary, one of our alternating narratives is a young teenager devastated by death and loss, namley her little brother; Barnley. The mystery behind this highlighting the long chain of young boys to have gone missing. At the other end of the scale we have Morgan who's confined existence with more than just overbearing parents brings the story of Cinderella to mind.

Both being told stories of tales and stories of a land before, reality and fairytale are hard to separate not only for Mary and Morgan but for us as the reader. With magic as common place as the being in the trees and words you speak, a mysterious tangle of events begins to entwine us and the girls with a need to find out what the mystery behind this island is and why it is so important for the 'snake ropes' made by the people of the island of seaweed and magic to be traded with outsiders...

An impressive debut novel venturing and mixing fairytale and reality together in such a completely original and inventive way which captures you and transports almost physically there as well as mentally. Stunning.

Cassandra220689
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surreal & Compelling, 23 July 2012
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This review is from: Snake Ropes (Hardcover)
This is an excellent debut novel by Jess Richards.
It is narrated by its two main characters Mary & Morgan. The story is set on a remote Island which has never been mapped and it's only visitors are the "Tall Men" who arrive once a month to trade with the Islanders. The other men in the story are almost irrelevant with the Island Women deciding the Islanders fate. Much discussion of which takes place in the weaving room and punishments are dealt out by the Thrashing House.
Boys on the Island are disappearing though and when Mary's young brother disappears she is determined to find him - he is hers after all. Her Mother is dead and her father always fishing so Mary was his sole carer.
Morgan, the other heroine, is trapped in her family home and has been since they fled to the Island from the mainland. She has younger twin sisters who seem strangely sinister, a rather weak father and a mother who is consistently childlike with breakdowns and tantrums. Morgan ends up, like Cinderella, doing all the cooking and cleaning for the household.
The Islanders have many strange beliefs which have been passed down through the generations. Folklore and magic is rife in every aspect of their lives. There is a beautiful contrast between Mary who has been born and bred on the Island and Morgan who was brought there and been kept separate with only a large supply of books to keep her company. The story is full of metaphors and symbols in a primative place that has escaped time. The characters are enthralling and puzzles and twists keep you turning the pages to find out more. The dreamlike quality of this tale is almost like Alice in Wonderland but more believable due to the way of life of the Islands inhabitants. Mary and Morgan are vulnerable and yet very strong characters.
A beautifully written book which is very different from anything I would normally choose but thoroughly recommend.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a book that can take you to another world., 18 July 2012
This review is from: Snake Ropes (Hardcover)
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It can take you to a wild island, far from the Scottish coast. It is a world apart, where people live as people in isolated communities have for many centuries. They farm, they fished, and they make things that they might trade with passing travellers.

Those travellers came often, `tall men in black coats' from the mainland, and yet the islanders never left. I wouldn't want to leave, even though I might be a little scared if I stayed. Jess Richards has created a wonderful world; real, alive, magical and strange.
It is the stories of two young women that bring it to life.

Mary was born into an island family, but her family is shrinking. First her mother was lost to her, and then Barney, her beloved infant brother. She knew he was still there, she heard his voice in the world around her, but she couldn't see him. What secrets was her father keeping from her? Had the tall men taken him? Or was he in the mysterious Thrashing House, a building every bit as sinister as its name suggests?

Morgan was born on the mainland, but her parents ran away from something, and they fled to the island. They built a fortress and they raised their children behind barricades. Morgan, and her younger twin sisters could see out, but they couldn't get out. What was her family doing on the island? What might there be outside the barricades?

Both were looking for answers, and their two stories are told in two voices. They work together and balance each other beautifully.

I was wonderfully torn, by the writing and the storytelling. I wanted to linger. To luxuriate in beautiful prose, as light as air, rich with wonderful images, wrapped around so many intriguing ideas. But I also wanted to keep turning the pages, I wanted to keep hearing those two wonderful voices, and I wanted to uncover those secrets, answer those questions every bit as much as Mary and Morgan.

The stories flowed perfectly. The twist, when it came, was striking. And the book as whole is quite extraordinary.

There is magic - a child's toy speaks, an embroidered bird takes flight, a key has a mind of its own - and it illuminates serious themes - pain and healing, the roles women play, the consequences of keeping secrets - so very, very effectively. You could just read a wonderful inventive story, or you could stop and ponder the many things it says so very eloquently as well.

I can see the influences - Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood are, quite rightly named - but I can also see that Jess Richards has absorbed them and then moved on to create something of her own that is quite unique.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read- very entertaining, 22 Sept. 2012
By 
D. Richards (South Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Snake Ropes (Hardcover)
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I very much enjoyed reading this book.

Jess Richards has made a very impressive debut novel with a compelling storyline, vivid characters and locations that are given fantastic descriptions. The mix of modern day story telling along with classic folktales makes for a very enjoyable read. The only slight gripe I had about the book was the structure of the language used by some of the characters early on in the book - it was a bit "yoda-esque" and hard to get my head around at times, but once I got passed that I really enjoyed the tale told.

A superb book for a debut writer!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A rich uncanny novel, 30 Sept. 2012
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Snake Ropes (Hardcover)
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Mary Jared lives in a remote island in the far north, where the only contact with the outside world is the 'tall men' who come from the mainland to trade. These men, although necessary, are also feared as their arrivals coincide with the disappearance of island boys. When Mary's brother disappears she deploys all her powers (both natural and supernatural) to try and find him. Mary's story is interspersed with that of Morgan, a former mainlander, whose parents are the island's undertakers. Kept a prisoner by her frightened and frightening family, her only escape is into books.

In her debut novel, Jess Richards has created a richly imagined world which although related to ours has a striking social structure and many uncanny features. Much of the book's pleasure lies in these weird details being gradually revealed. Mary and Morgan are strong characters, and I particularly enjoyed Mary's frankness and determination. Overall, however, I felt that the material wasn't as controlled as it could have been, resulting in longueurs and, by the end, a loss of interest in how events would play out.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!, 18 Sept. 2012
This review is from: Snake Ropes (Hardcover)
Woweeeee, what a book. Have had the busiest few weeks but have snatched any time I can to read it, as it is the most fantastically involving and inventive book I have read in a long time. Just had to put everything else to one side to finish reading it, and am now in that post-book state of wishing I hadn't finished it yet!

Snake Ropes is something quite beautiful, magical, creative and transporting. Transporting because I felt like I'd opened a little door somewhere and entered into another, more wondrous, reality. The characters are so real, beautifully and truthfully drawn, and the writing poetic and vivid. Jess Richards has a deftness of touch, dealing with some raw, painful subjects with the lightness of a poet. And the world of women was tenderly evoked, creating the a space where women have autonomy and weave a web of stories, magic and legend. Having worked with women in labour, it would be the lovely character Kelmar I would want by my side in that moment. In fact, if I ever work in that capacity again, I'll channel her I think!

The watery world of the island is vivid, a place where stories and folklore are tangled in the seaweed. I read the book whilst at home on the cliffs, with rain lashing down and waves crashing on the rocks below, and felt at times like I really had slipped through that portal to join Mary and Morgan...

This is a beautiful book and a real pleasure to read. It's so refreshing to find a debut writer with such a unique voice and I'm sure this writer has a long career ahead of her - I'm looking forward to the next book already!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, if it's to your taste, 25 Jan. 2014
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Snake Ropes (Kindle Edition)
'Snake Ropes' is one of those unsettling stories where you're never quite sure what the rules are. The time and place of the setting are unclear. There are magical elements, but this is not really a fantasy story. I suppose you would describe it as 'magical realism'. I enjoy fantasy novels, but I like to know that's what they are upfront and I like my magic to exist within a structure. Personally, I find novels like this one where everything remains bizarre and unexplained, difficult to read and properly enjoy. As with anything in life, I'm sure others would find this very sensation one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book - it's down to taste really.

There's no doubt it's well written, if you don't mind the odd bit of stylistic showing off. However, if you can't bear to read long sections written in vernacular, complete with cutesy-bad grammar, be warned that at least half of this book is written that way. There are two first person narrators in the story, with alternating chapters - both are young women of around 20 years old, living separate lives on an isolated and strange island. Once you get used to the idiosyncratic style of the fisherman's daughter, Mary, she becomes a very likeable heroine. I didn't warm to the other narrator quite as much, but there's nothing particularly bad about her either.

Plot wise, it does keep you guessing, if only because a lot of it is so weird you feel that anything could happen. But don't hold out too much hope for explanations. The central plotline concerns a kidnapped child, and this gives the story a strong emotional pull and provides something the reader can relate to amongst all the bizarreness. The second half is very compelling, and there is a pretty good twist as well. So despite my irritation with some of the writing style and the deliberate vagueness about some of the aspects of island life that had a direct impact on the plot, I did enjoy reading and found it hard to put down.

If you enjoy books like 'Darkmans' or 'Midnight's Children', you may well find 'Snake Ropes' is right up your street. It's not a book for those who dislike fantasy or magical elements in stories, or anyone who dislikes those elements without the author laying out the rules and limitations within the text. The story is strongly female centric (unsurprising given it is narrated by two young women and describes a very matriarchal society) with male characters depicted as weak, or evil, or both. Thus I suspect it might appeal more to women than to men, though I think the main factor deciding who will enjoy the book is personal taste around the 'magical realism' and writing style. It's not a story that would have universal popularity, but I'm sure that those who like it, will love it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange, beguiling and sinister, 17 May 2012
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Snake Ropes (Hardcover)
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Jess Richards has succeeded in writing a beguiling tale that straddles a strange modern world with one concocted from the remnants of myth, folklore, fairytale and Freud. The story emerges from the voices of two adolescent girls - Mary who is motherless and is searching for her lost brother; and Morgan who is locked within her house with her strange twin sisters and forced into doing all the housework (definite shades of Cinderella, Rapunzel etc.) while reading Freud and Jung.

Out of these two narratives a story materialises taking in lost boys, twisted mother-daughter relationships, absent fathers, mysterious Tall Men, and the sinister Thrashing House which looms over the island.

The influences of classical myth (Homer and Virgil for birds with women's faces; Ovid for extraordinary physical metamorphoses), folklore and fairy tales are everywhere and, to some extent, this reminded me of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, Jeanette Winterson's novels, Alan Garner's The Owl Service and Red Shift. Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams also seems to have a presence here as well as Jung and the idea of the collective unconsciousness and the reading of symbols. But Richards melds these beautifully and creates a voice and vision which is sometimes quite startling.

Yet for all its admirable qualities I couldn't stop a niggling doubt that this is a hugely imaginative and mesmeric telling of what is, ultimately, quite a familiar story. All the stylistic prose elements work wonderfully but served to keep me at arm's distance from the story that was being told, which is dark, distressing and should have felt more hard-hitting. So this is dazzling in lots of ways but there is an emotional black hole where its heart ought to be.
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Snake Ropes
Snake Ropes by Jess Richards (Hardcover - 10 May 2012)
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