Debut Review: The Birthing House

The Birthing House
The Birthing House (Amazon USAUKCanada)
By Christopher Ransom (US Website, UK Website)
UK Publisher: Little, Brown (Sphere) (Jan. 1, 2009)
USA Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (Aug. 4, 2009)
Hardcover
Excerpt (pdf)
Review copy provided by Little, Brown.

Reviewed by Raven.

I started The Birthing House (debut showcase here) with high hopes. A birthing house, which I had never heard of before, is apparently a house owned by a doctor, and women would go there to give birth. The idea behind The Birthing House is that birth, the beginning of life, is just as traumatic an event as death, the ending of life, so it’s just as likely to open the door to evil and result in a house becoming haunted. This concept intrigued me, and I liked the writing style in the excerpt, so although I rarely read ghost stories, I wanted to read this book.

Having read it, I still think the concept is intriguing. I enjoyed the way Christopher Ransom pulls the reader into the head of his main character, Conrad Harrison. However, a couple of things kept me from enjoying the book as much as I wanted to.

One biggie was I felt Ransom didn’t exploit the concept fully. He set up a lot of births and upcoming births (several pregnant women, a clutch of parthenogetic snake’s eggs, and a number of odd, apparently ageless children born in the house). The problem was none of these setups really paid off. Instead the book took off in a different, less original direction, and most of these intriguing mysteries never got explained. The less interesting story we got instead even made me roll my eyes at one point, unfortunately.

I guess I’ve read books before where the author seems to run out of steam in the second half, although I see it more often in movies. Most of the time it seems to happen in works with a high, easily explainable, original concept. Well, this book has one of those. It hooked me with the “birth opening the door to evil” idea. But, as seems to happen with these concepts all too often, the author didn’t explore every angle. So, while the concept made me read the book, I wasn’t satisfied.

So, a note to writers writing strong, original concepts: follow through. In the case of The Birthing House, the whole book should have reflected the birth/evil idea. But instead this idea seemed to go by the wayside halfway through.

I also wished the hero were more active and, well, more heroic. Instead of working to solve the mysteries he was encountering, he moped around and reflected on his past. Granted, his past tied into the theme, but I would’ve loved to see him presented as a guy taking action to whip this house and its ghosts instead of letting them whip him.

But I probably could have forgiven the hero for being passive (okay, maybe I could have) if the novel had been strong in the second half. Can you tell I’m gritting my teeth with frustration because it wasn’t? The mysteries I wanted to see resolved are still mysteries.

Has this happened to you? You’ve been hooked by a concept and disappointed by the execution? It really does frustrate me, because strong concepts have so much potential to become strong novels (or movies) that I hate to see them not do so.

12 thoughts on “Debut Review: The Birthing House”

  1. This is the third time I’ve tried to comment. Please let it post this time!

    I remember the debut announcement for this one, just because it was such a high-concept idea. I know what you mean about high-concept books that fall flat. No examples are coming to mind, but I guess that proves my point. Books that don’t follow through become entirely forgettable.

  2. Superwench, please email me and tell me about your comment problem. I don’t want people having a hard time leaving comments!

  3. Superwench, yes, they can become forgettable. I can’t remember too many books/movies where I had the experience either, although I know it’s happened a number of times. Wedding Crashers does come to mind.

    Todd, I can see why that premise would hook you. It sounds interesting. Too bad it didn’t deliver. 🙁

  4. Has this happened to you? You’ve been hooked by a concept and disappointed by the execution?

    All too regularly. {lop-sided Smile}

    My first love is fantasy where family relationship and close friendships are prominent. Science fiction with the same focus is a close second. Sometimes it seems that if anything is going to get dropped part way thru, it’s the friendships, the parents, the children, the siblings, the cousins, the aunts, uncles, nephews, and neices…. Since that’s what I want to see the most, I get frustrated pretty often. {lopsided Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  5. Anne Elizabeth, I can imagine! I also enjoy seeing relationships, and although of course I want the plot to advance, I don’t want it to advance at the expense of the character relationships.

  6. Non-romantic relationships don’t have to slow the plot. They can be woven into the story as surely as romantic ones can. If they develop over the course of the story, they can even make a nice sub-plot. {smile}

    I just wish it was easier to find authors who agree with me on this. {lop-sided smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  7. Anne Elizabeth, I so know what you mean about the family dynamic of a fantasy novel that disappears halfway through the book. We need more fantasy books that keep that family atmosphere up. And more fantasy books with females in “traditional” female roles. I love a kick-butt warrior heroine as much as the next girl, but what about a magic-wielding mother of four who saves the day? Not every woman can be a warrior princess!

  8. This reminds me again of one of the most memorable fantasy novels I read as a teen: Caught in Crystal, by Patricia C. Wrede. The female protagonist (40ish and slightly overweight, which is awesome) is forced to go off on a quest with her two adolescent children in tow, and the kids play important roles in the story from beginning to end.

  9. That’s a good point about traditional female roles, SuperWench. {Smile} Yes, I’d love to see an older heroine who cae with kids in tow. I wouldn’t mind the princess nearly as much if she came with a few relatives, either. But then, I’m pretty incorrigable when it comes to Family Fantasy. {SMILE, wink}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  10. Thanks Raven. I’ll have to look around for Caught in Crystal; that one sounds neat. {SMILE}

    Patricia C. Wrede has done a few other good family-oriented novels. Most notable is The Mislaid Magician. The young ladies of Sorcery and Cecelia and The Grand Tour have become not particularly sober matrons with several kids apiece. They haven’t lost their noses for trouble. In fact, their kids seem to have inherited good noses for trouble from their mothers. The husband/fathers really have their hands full. {SMILE}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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