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Review: Century by Sarah Singleton

 Review: Century by Sarah Singleton

I should admit that I was initially attracted to Century by its beautifully gloomy cover: all chiaroscuro shades with a stunning purple foil title. However, in this instance I can happily say that I was right to judge a book by its cover.

While author Sarah Singleton is no newcomer to fiction'or non-fiction for that matter'Century is her first foray into young adult fiction. While some authors struggle to make the transition between adult and young adult fiction, coming off as overly earnest or painfully twee and pat, Singleton seems to have found a genre that works for her.

Century is an eerie, ghostly tale that has an old-worldly feel to it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me that it had been dug out of Great-great-great Aunt Edith's (bless her soul) old leather trunk, or that it had been unearthed from amidst the forgotten curiosities lurking in a shut up attic.

The book tells the tale of young sisters Mercy and Charity, who have lived all their lives in the mansion Century, staring out at a never-ending winter. The girls' days are dark and bleak, and their routine consists of little more than stodgy breakfasts and ill-remembered lessons. However, on one of these seemingly endless days, Mercy not only finds a tear on her pillow, but comes across a ghost in the nearby lake, and these strange discoveries lead her to realise that not all is as it seems. Mercy's days are suddenly filled with musing and curiosity: how old is she? When was the last time she saw her mother? How long have they been living in Century? and she embarks upon a ravenous study of her family's history.

The girls' father, Mercy finds out, unable to cope with the death of their mother, has placed the house and its inhabitants under a spell that sees them living out the same day over and over as time passes by around them. While this plot element should seem trite and cliched, Singleton treats it masterfully, taking us back and forth in time to show us exactly how the family came to be in such a situation. Moreover, rather than simply treating it as an inexplicable curse that Mercy must simply learn to deal with, we watch as she struggles with the losses the curse represents, and her frustration and anger at being forced away from a typical life, even though she has known nothing different.

Singleton draws together a web of fascinating incidents involving Frankensteinian experimentation, pained and unrequited love, and a family secret capable of shattering lives, and the result is a chilling, masterful tale that is surprisingly beautiful. Don't expect a dirge, though'the ending is quite uplifting, and I found myself drawing parallels (somewhat oddly) with both The City of Ember and Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy: after watching someone trapped in darkness for so long, it's a beautiful sight to watch them come out, blinking, into something altogether new.

 Review: Century by Sarah Singleton

Purchase Century

Other books by Sarah Singleton you might like: Heretic (sequel to Century); The Amethyst Child; Out of the Shadows

Forthcoming reviews: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (young adult); Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar by DJ Connell (humour; mainstream)

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