Book Review: “The Book of Speculation” by Erika Swyler

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “The Book of Speculation” by Erika Swyler! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.

One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand.”

Plotwise, I thought it was interesting to read overall. There are two plots in the book that slowly make sense with each other through reading the whole book. There is the present time, where Simon finds the book and learns more about his family history as well as trying to make sure his sister Enola is okay at the end of it all as there is some sort of curse that plagues his family, where the “circus mermaids” in the family will eventually die on a specific date—July 24th, to be exact. The other plot is that of the past, recalling this specific history that Simon and others investigate. Tarot cards and circus mermaids are key elements to both plots, and the way the plotlines relate to each other in the book are quite well written.

What I also found interesting about both plots was that the present was written in first person, in Simon’s point of view, whereas the plotline of the past was written in third person, as if retelling a story. Though I criticized the use of this in past book reviews as this type of writing style often led to confusion, it actually helps for this book so it helps us to clearly understand whether we are reading specific scenes in the present or in the past.

When it came to characters, I thought it was very interesting to see all of the character’s relations with one another, especially when it came to Simon and Enola’s familial relationship. Simon clearly cares for Enola and wants to do all he can to help, and eventually Enola realizes this as well to an extent. Unlike Caraval, where the siblings just didn’t get along despite supposedly claiming to be caring for each other, this book writes out Simon and Enola’s sibling relations in a more interesting and complex manner. Both siblings do have their differences and points of views, but they’re not criticizing each other all the time and do try to make some peace with each other.

If there were any things that I didn’t like as much, it was probably the romance between Amos and Evangeline in the book during the plotline of the past. Granted, it had to happen in order for said generations of “circus mermaids” to occur in later times, but given the many warning signs Amos was given that he and Evangeline’s relationship would end in tragedy (and, spoiler alert, it did), Amos should have at least taken them a bit more seriously. Everyone was so worried about him and his wellbeing that it should’ve been obvious to him that something was very much wrong. Even after Evangeline temporarily runs away, he can’t stop pining for her, and that annoyed me on the whole.

Another thing I didn’t like was the ending, mainly because I didn’t understand Simon’s situation right at the end. Did he die? Did he fall into a coma? I’m very confused as of what happened to him.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4 out of 5 stars!

This is because of the effective writing style, character relationships and the two main plots of the book intertwining in such an interesting way. I take away half a star for the weird ending and the other half of a star for the really oblivious Amos. However, if you like sideshows, well-written flashbacks and interesting relationship dynamics, I would recommend this book to read.

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