Unraveller by Frances Hardinge

Unraveller – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: dark, gothic, twisted, compelling, mystery.
Young adult book title: Unraveller.
Young adult author: Frances Hardinge
Genre: Dark fantasy.
Published by: Macmillan Children’s Books.
ISBN: 9781509836970
Recommended for children aged: 14+
First published: Hardback September 2022.
This children’s book is ideal for: KS4 fantasy fans.

Unraveller by Frances Hardinge

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Our review:

The citizens of Raddith have been granted an unusual and deadly power by the spider-like creatures known as the Little Brothers – they can bestow a curse on anyone who they truly, soul-deeply hate. These curses can take many forms – often gruesome but not necessarily deadly – such as making a cruel employers’ hands pour with blood or transforming unwanted step-children into birds.

Although anti-curse amulets are sold to gullible tourists, the best advice is to not give a Raddith citizen cause to hate you. If that does happen however, then 15 year-old Kellen is your best hope. Kellen can unravel a curse, picking it apart like threads. Unfortunately his temper tends to gets the best of him as he feels that his employers often deserve the curses put upon them.

After angering his latest client, he is saved from imprisonment by a mysterious one-eyed horseman named Gall who offers regular work in exchange for protection when it turns out that Kellen himself has been cursed. Reluctantly accepting the offer, Kellen is accompanied by his friend and ally Nettle who Kellen freed from entrapment as a bird.

Together they discover a group of secret individuals who appear to be using would-be cursers for their own benefit, and in doing so start to unravel a deeper conspiracy that’s spreading across the whole of Raddith.

“You can’t cure a curse, you have to unravel it. You have to find the reasons that wove it, and work out how to pull the threads loose”.

By the author of the Costa Award-winning The Lie Tree, Unraveller is a dark and complex story of twisted morals and shifting allegiances.

Kellen is not always a likeable protagonist – he is moody, self-centered and prone to self-destructive behaviour. Nettle is more reserved, loyal to her friend and rescuer but remaining somewhat apart, haunted by her past despite being released from bird form.

“Even if you didn’t dwell on the past, however, sometimes the past dwelt on you. Sometimes it remembered you and came after you for revenge.”

Weaving in strands from the darker side of fairy tales – including human to animal transformation, unhealthy family relationships and considerable blood and gore – this is definitely a book for older teenagers.

At almost 500 pages it’s a substantive read that may prove challenging for readers who prefer their fiction more light and frothy. For fans of Frances Hardinge’s other works this is another powerful and immersive tale that will also appeal to readers of Patrick Ness and Amanda Hocking.

Many thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for the review copy.

If you like Unraveller by Frances Hardinge you might also like: our reviews of Once Upon a Fever by Angharad Walker, When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari, Song of the Far Isles by Nicholas Bowling, Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Taylor Before and After by Jennie Englund. Unraveller by Frances Hardinge is also featured in our picks of the best books coming out in Autumn 2022.

Browse our list of books for KS4 students

About Melanie Dillon

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Melanie has a Master’s degree in Information and Library Management; a Post Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature focusing on the Reading Agency’s Reading Well scheme & LGBT YA fiction, and extensive experience working in school and public libraries. Linkedin | Reviews by Melanie Dillon