Awakening is Bolton’s second novel and I thought it was even better than her debut novel, Sacrifice. The book has many of the same elements as the previous one with a female protagonist trying to solve a mystery in an isolated rural community with aspects that may or may not be rooted in the supernatural.
Awakening is set in a remote English village with a heroine who is practically a recluse due to facial scarring from childhood. Self conscious, Clara avoids human contact where possible, devoting herself to her career as a wildlife vet, but when an influx of snakes appears in the village, Clara’s expertise draws her unwanted attention. Uncomfortable, Clara tries to retreat, but finds it harder as the the snakes put everyone in danger and Clara is determined to get to the bottom of it. Clara also finds herself receiving attention from two very different men, Sean North, an eccentric wildlife expert, and Matthew Hoare, a police detective.
As if this wasn’t enough for Clara to deal with, her alcoholic mother dies, forcing her to come to terms with events from the past which led to her disfigurement. Bolton deals with Clara’s emotions sensitively as she tries to push aside her grief, deal with her new unwanted attention, while uncovering a near fifty year tragedy. It’s a lot for one person to endure but Clara isn’t as alone as she seems to think. Out of the two men vying for her attentions, I really like Matt who refused to let Clara retreat into her shell while being respectful for her needs. However, this book is not a romance, mainly because Clara isn’t ready to take that step yet and I’m glad it was not pursued as it would’ve seemed false to the character.
The mystery behind the snakes is well plotted and Bolton keeps you guessing almost to the very end, some twists were easy to work out while others were kept well hidden. The chapters dealing with the snakes are absolutely chilling and on more than occasion, I found myself looking at dark corners in my house with some trepidation even though the chances of finding something were remote. The setting in the rural village lends itself to maintaining the creepy atmosphere with endless tunnels and scary old houses all adding to the sense of paranoia.