James Scott - The Kept
Odd rhythms, unconvincing character arcs and clumsy prose let down a good 19th century revenge drama
It starts in the aftermath of a mass-murder. Midwife Elspeth returns to her homestead to find her family gunned down in cold blood, and her adopted son Caleb the lone, traumatised survivor. The remainder of the story follows their journey as they embark on a God-given – she believes – quest for vengeance.
Author James Scott gains credit for the well-evoked late-19th century setting, and the unusual setup: Elspeth's slaughtered family is composed of children she has stolen from other mothers, and her motivations are complex (as is her relationship to Caleb). Unfortunately, a potentially involving character-driven story is let down by poor storytelling.
The rhythms are all wrong. One minute Elspeth is slipping naked into a man's bed, the next she is standing across the room again, removing her bandages; would-be shocking revelations are breezed past in a single line, and descriptions of events are often so muddled that even pivotal moments have no impact.
There is a good story somewhere in here, but the weird scene progressions, unconvincing character arcs and clumsy prose make for an arduous journey.