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.
Catriona Ward’s last novel The Last House on Needless Street was one of the anchors of the new Tor Imprint, Nightfire. The buzz around this book made it one of the most anticipated novels of last year. Her follow-up, Sundial, came out earlier this month, and like The Last House on Needless Street, there are some good and bad qualities to the novel.
The story starts with Rob, a woman who grew up in the desert on Sundial, a compound that raised and experimented on dogs. She now has a husband and two girls. The oldest one, Callie, is starting to do strange things, and once she hurts her sister, Annie, Rob takes Callie out to the desert compound to be away from her sister. This set-up is interesting because we do not know what the ultimate purpose of this trip is, just that it is happening under strange circumstances, and the tone for outcome feels very bleak.
What happens to Sundial is that it gets too deep into the backstory of Rob growing up at Sundial with her sister, Jack, and the story of her escape. She tells the story of the dogs, the experiments, and all of the things that her and Jack do as the only two kids on the compound, surrounded by dogs, their parents, and researcher interns from the local university. The telling of this childhood is interesting, but the story of the present and what Rob plans to do with Callie is way more interesting than the backstory. The long long sections of her childhood makes the middle part noticeably difficult to get through. I wanted to skip ahead and get back to the present, with the fighting between Rob and Irving, her husband, and what she planned to do with her child.
There is a third set of chapters, between the past and the present. These are a that Rob is writing, a story about girls in an isolated school. This creates a thread of metaphor with these sections, but it is so thin because these chapters are so sparse and scattered that we cannot really tie them to the actual story. They are more of a distraction and unnecessary than a benefit to telling this story. I would most likely skip those sections if I were ever to read this book again.
Even with all of these complaints, I do like this book. I like the original story, and I like these unlikable characters. I will also say that I will point people to this novel before The Last House on Needless Street. This story is much better than her first novel, but I still see that there are things about the way that she structures her novels that I do not like. Overall, Sundial is better than her last novel, but it is still not as good as it could be.
I received this novel as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.