by Natalie R. Collins
Reviewed by Rob Holden
Sisterwife by Natalie R. Collins is a difficult novel to categorize. Part suspense, part romance, part psychological thriller the novel moves along so quickly that by the time you think you have it pegged, it throws you another curve ball. While this sort of approach to writing can easily cause the reader to become confused or lost, neither of these things happens in Sisterwife - due to the fact that Ms. Collins is, quite simply, one hell of a storyteller. The story starts off quickly, and gains speed with each page.
Kelsey Waite is a young single mother living with her seven-year-old daughter Tia in Southern California. Ten years earlier, Kelsey escaped a life of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of her father in Utah who had become devoted to a splinter cult of the Mormon Church. The leader of this cult proclaimed that his son would be the next great prophet and that Kelsey would marry him, bear him three sons, and thus bring about Armageddon. Breaking with her traditions and leaving behind everything she had ever known, Kelsey runs away to California and starts a new life, slowly putting the nightmare of her childhood behind her.
The cult, however, is not to be denied. Tia is kidnapped, and used as bait to draw Kelsey back to Utah, and to the cult, where she can finally fulfill the prophecy. With the aid of Quinn - the police detective in charge of the kidnapping case - Kelsey returns to Utah to get her daughter back and, in the process, confronts both her past and the terrifying present the leader of the cult has created around him.
There are some very disturbing things in this novel. Polygamy, incest, religious mania, madness in various forms - and yet Ms. Collins handles all of them deftly and with a marked lack of sensationalism. There is no preaching in this novel - the cult is bad not by virtue of what they are, but because of what they do. While the cult is loosely based on some old Mormon precepts, Ms. Collins takes great pains to differentiate their beliefs from the true Church of Latter Day Saints - while at the same time giving the reader some fascinating insights into a religion most of us are not familiar with. The cult is a perversion of faith, brought about by the madness of its leaders, and the author handles this difference deftly and with great sensitivity. Her attention to detail - and her quick, crisp explanations of what are, in some cases, completely alien ideas - serve to keep the reader both focused and engrossed. There are no long meandering scenes in which characters wallow in self-pity - there simply isn't time. The pace of the novel is rapid fire, and the action comes at you from so many different directions that you - along with Kelsey and Quinn- simply don't have a clue what's coming next.
Where Ms. Collins truly hits her stride, however, is in her handling of complex - and often frightening -human emotions and relationships. This is a very "character driven" novel, and the author expertly draws and develops her characters throughout the book. There is nothing one dimensional about any of the people you meet in Sisterwife and more than any other single aspect of the novel it is this - the fact that we are compelled to care about these characters in one way or another - that keeps the reader turning the pages.
Technically well written, compellingly told and downright entertaining, Sisterwife is a truly fine first novel from a writer I expect to be seeing a lot more from in the future. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who doesn't mind losing a little sleep at night because they can't put a book down.
I rate this novel * * * * 1/2 out of five stars.
You can read an excerpt of Sisterwife here: http://www.nataliercollins.net/excerpt.html
Click here to purchase SisterWife on Booklocker.com
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