Why The Furies Was Nothing Like I Expected, Yet Everything I Wanted

… and more.

Welcome! Good to see you. I hope your week’s been alright.

Today, I am going to tell you why The Furies by Katie Lowe is exactly what you need in your life right now. Yes, really! It was recommended to me as being similar to Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House (which I am obsessed with) by several people. Now, they are similar but also so different – I like to think The Furies is the British answer to Leigh’s masterwork. They’re both beautiful. *sigh*

First up: TWs (for the book): death, murder, grief, sexual assault, neglect, abusive parents, death of an animal. Please take care of yourself. My DMs are always open.

Quick synopsis: Violet’s life is turned upside down when her father and sister die unexpectedly. Stuck in a house full of memories with a mother who is always there but not there, she starts her final year at a new school – and is immediately drawn to wonderfully reckless Robin and her friends Alex and Grace. When art teacher Annabel invites Vivi to secret classes on the witchy, gruesome past of Elm Hollow Academy, things start to get otherworldly… Or should I say underworldly?

What immediately struck me about this book is the writing. Katie has a beautifully descriptive style that makes even the mundanest of places seem magical. I wish I could dip into Vivi’s world, go for a coffee at the International Coffee Company, drop by the wych elm, attend a class at Elm Hollow Academy… The setting is both utterly familiar and, at the same time, awe-inspiring. The literary trip to this small British town is made all the more exciting by the current travel ban. Just use your imagination!

‘You’d kill to be one of them,’ the cover tells us, setting the tone for a story of powerful friendships and sapphic relationships. Really, it looked like a YA title to me at first glance, the slogan speaking of teen angst, maybe peer pressure, written across the faces of four young women/adolescents. However, the novel itself is told retrospectively so Vivi walks us through the events from an adult’s perspective. It provides a bit of distance from the (sometimes horrifying!) events of The Furies and makes it accessible to all kinds of readers. That’s why – I believe – you’ll find it in adult section in your local indie.

I was immediately fire and flame (a German phrase for passionate feelings) for the classical references in this book. Annabel teaches the four girls about ancient heroines in a misguided attempt to inspire feminist ideals – with rather heavy consequences. The tale that she most relies on is Medea’s. Medea, in Euripides’s version at least, kills her sons in revenge, after her lover Jason leaves her to marry a rich woman. She then rides off on a carriage drawn by dragons (the style!) and so became the embodiment of the naturally evil witch. In this interpretation, however, people tend to forget that she gave up her home and betrayed her family for Jason who cruelly abandons her. She’s been turned into a symbol of radical feminism in recent times, becoming the original ‘nasty woman’. You can sort of see how her story can be twisted into a lesson on why women have to stick up for one another, no matter what, right? And the girls take this lesson to heart on more than one occasion.

The character we need to speak about is the one and only Robin. There is something so vibrantly alive about her that appeals to Violet who was surrounded by death for an entire year before she attends Elm Hollow. Robin is the epitomy of youth – reckless, bold, arrogant, rebellious, self-righteous. There is a beauty to her conviction that she’s invincible (although I would starkly advise against following strange, drunken men home under any circumstances!). At times, I wasn’t quite sure whether to love or loathe her – she initiates most of the foolish activities the four girls participate in – but Vivi’s admiration (and stronger feelings) for her redheaded friend are infectious (in a positive way – not like a pandemic). I’ve never met (or read!) anyone quite like her.

Now to my favourite part of the book… Violet starts her story with the death of a nameless girl, sitting on a set of swings, no obvious cause of death. The mystery of this death stays with the reader throughout the entire novel, until the events finally unfold. And yet, even when all is over, we still don’t know exactly what happened! I have four theories on the potential cause of death, one less likely than the next, and I just want to DM Katie Lowe (her Twitter and instagram are fantastic!) to quiz her on this. The not knowing adds to the story’s conclusion, I think, because it doesn’t matter how it happened. What matters is that it did happen. Someone died, and the other characters are left to deal with this tragedy. Or, in some cases, not deal with it but instead be plagued by the ghosts of the past for the rest of their lives …

Without wanting to spoil the ending (you can read it yourself, eh?), I appreciate the way the narrator eases us out of the disturbing tale so so much. There is no dramatic heartache, no tearing at hair and crying, no screaming at the top of their lungs. Instead, we learn that some characters obsess over the events for years and years to come. Their entire lives evolve around them, never letting them forget what happened. And that, to me, is more powerful than any momentary show of grief could be. It’s also the perfect conclusion to an understated telling of a powerful story that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Just as I’ve bothered anyone I know about reading Ninth House, I will now recommend The Furies to every person I talk to! If you’ve read it, drop me a message so we can discuss – I have so many theories.

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