by Catriona Ward
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication Date: March 1, 2022
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Sundial is a new, twisty psychological horror novel from Catriona Ward, internationally bestselling author of The Last House on Needless Street.
You can't escape what's in your blood...
All Rob wanted was a normal life. She almost got it, too: a husband, two kids, a nice house in the suburbs. But Rob fears for her oldest daughter, Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her too much of the family she left behind.
She decides to take Callie back to her childhood home, to Sundial, deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.
Callie is worried about her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely, and speaks of past secrets. And Callie fears that only one of them will leave Sundial alive…
The mother and daughter embark on a dark, desert journey to the past in the hopes of redeeming their future.
Much as the cover suggests, this book is creepy and twisty as heck. It’s an exploration of nature versus nature and the fears parents have about passing their trauma on to the next generation.
“I have the familiar growing sense that always fills me at Sundial: that this is the only real place on earth, and the rest of the world is a kind of dream.”
From the outside, Rob’s life seems idyllic. She’s a teacher and the mother of two girls, 9-year-old Annie and 12-year-old Callie, while her husband Irving is a professor. But an incident at home leads Rob no choice but to take Callie back to her childhood home deep in the Mojave desert. At Sundial, Rob must confront the specter of her own childhood and its implications for her children. Is history repeating itself, or is something much more sinister going on?
“Kids are mirrors, reflecting back everything that happens to them. You’ve got to make sure they’re surrounded by good things.”
There’s very little that I can say without revealing much of the plot – or what you think the plot is. A large focus of the book is on childhood, about how things aren’t what they seem, about how what you thought happened as a child was not, entirely, the truth. The book is mostly from Rob and Callie’s viewpoints, starting with both of them in the present and then gradually adding in chapters from Rob’s past, which start from when she’s seventeen. Callie’s chapters are absolutely amazing. At twelve, she’s much younger than Rob was, but she also has a unique view of the world, and in some ways, a more clearer and adult view. There’s also a few book-within-a-book chapters, a story that Rob is writing along the lines of one of those classic English girls’ boarding school books. But as the chapters progress; it’s clear that the narrators aren’t telling us everything, and you’re left with the deeply unsettling feeling that something is very, very wrong. Even with all the twists and turns, the story is fairly linear and was nearly impossible to put down once I started it.
While I include content notes below, I’d also like to call out specifically that there are a lot of content warnings for this book, especially around animals and dogs specifically. I never felt like it was gratuitous, and certain aspects of the story made it feel sufficiently fictional that it wasn’t too overwhelming for me.
Overall, this was a creepy read about childhood and how that affects us as a parent with plenty of twists to keep a reader completely engrossed. I’ve already added the author’s previous work to my TBR!
Content notes: View Spoiler »Child abuse (on page), animal abuse, animal experimentation, animal death, violence (including gore and murder), intimate partner abuse, drug use, self harm, infidelity, alcohol use, ableism (around mental illness) « Hide Spoiler