Review: “The Circle” by Mats Strandberg & Sara Bergmark Elfgren


1610circle1193Title: “The Circle”

Author: Mats Strandberg & Sara Bergmark Elfgren

Genre: YA contemporary, UF, paranormal, Horror

Publication Date: May 7, 2013 (Overlook – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: On a night after the apparent suicide of high school student Elias Malmgren, a blood-red moon fills the night sky. Minoo wakes up outside her house, still in her pajamas, and is drawn by an invisible force to an abandoned theme park on the outskirts of town. Soon five of her classmates–Vanessa, Linnea, Anna-Karin, Rebecka and Ida–arrive, compelled the same force. A mystical being takes over Ida’s body and tells them they are fated to fight an ancient evil that is hunting them. The park is a safe haven; the school, a place of danger. The six are wildly different and definitely not friends…but they are the Chosen Ones.

As the weeks pass, each girl discovers she has a unique magical ability. They begin exploring their powers, but they are not all firmly committed to their mission–to discover the truth about Elias’s death. Then a horrible tragedy strikes within the circle. Newly determined to fight the evil forces, they begin to learn magic from The Book of Patterns, an ancient work with a will of its own that reveals different things to different witches.

☆: 3.5/5 stars – “The Craft” meets “The Secret Circle”, Swedish-style.

Review: So, “The Circle”. An interesting mix of “The Craft” and “The Secret Circle”, that’s not afraid to make fun of itself. I can see why John Ajvide Lindqvist blurbed this book – it’s got a certain mystery to it that also inhabits his books, but at the same time, I think there was a bit lost in translation. At least, at the ARC stage of things (which is what I got from the US publisher). But this book really isn’t just about teenage witches – it’s as Lindqvist says in his blurb – people learning how to deal with other people, and that is perhaps the best part of this book. While I feel like a lot could have been cut from this book with affecting nothing, it is what it is. “The Circle” is a taste of life in a small Swedish town, with teenagers against teenagers, learning how to deal with each other and their new-found abilities all at the same time.

My biggest problem with this book: the translation. As a translator myself, I can say regardless of what language I’m trying to work with, all translators deal with the same issue – trying not to make text read as “translatese”, and instead as fluid, coherent English. Unfortunately, this version of “The Circle” (I haven’t checked the final UK version so I don’t have anything really solid to compare it to) was full of translatese, and I know that this is because there were probably a lot of Swedish pieces of text that just couldn’t be worked into English any easier than what we got. That, or the editor just let it slip – and both of these two scenarios are totally possible. The result? It made good chunks of this book a little hard to read and to proceed smoothly along to the next part. That, and the fact that there were long parts of this book that could have been cut in the Swedish edition with the content not suffering one bit for those missing bits. There’s just too many scenes where not a lot (or anything at all) happened, and those could have been cut.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed “The Circle”, if just for the fact it puts together six girls who really do NOT get along, and makes them have to work together in the common goal of preventing a huge evil from making its way into our world. Not an easy task – especially when they’re all along the social spectrum. There are some that have bullied the others in the past, and there’s a very “The Craft” sense about some of the characters’ actions in order to get back at those who hurt them with their new power. That being said, there’s a LOT of characters to keep track of – our six protags, along with the Principal, the caretaker, parents, other friends, and so forth spinning a huge world within this tiny backwater Swedish town, which I found very impressive. With each girl comes her own demons and her own struggles, and I thought that the authors did a really good job of interweaving their stories, and showing us where they all intersected, and how they learn to deal with the fact that they’re all Chosen Ones, and they all need to work together, otherwise demons will come to this world and wreak havoc. But hey, no pressure, right?

I think one of my favorite parts was the world, and how the setting of the town of Engelfors became an antagonist. Even though it’s just one little sleepy town, the characters help really build it (the authors rely on the relationship-web school of worldbuilding, connecting everyone to create the world further than what’s just fixed as the basic setting) into this place where the past (witch burnings, really needed to give us more information on that but because this is a trilogy, I’m going to let it slide) haunts now, and helps create this thin membrane between humanity and demons, witches and regular teenagers that works both against the demons, and against the witches, along with the regular teenagers just trying to get along in this town until they come of age, get out of school, and become eligible to get the hell out of there to somewhere larger.
I think everyone can relate to that. Another thing I like about this book is the relatability – I think everyone can relate to so many moments in this book, because it’s the stuff of being a teenager, trying to figure out how to interact with others in this world along with discovering who you yourself really are all at the same time. That’s why I think it’s so beloved in its home country – because it’s something you can relate to, regardless of your age as a reader/the audience. You can say you’ve been there, even if your own situation hasn’t exactly been the same.

Final verdict? I think I’ll be sticking around for book two, but I’m really hoping Overlook gets the translatese problem solved for it. It’s a long, long book, but the ending (while semi-anticlimactic) is very well worth the wait. “The Circle” is now out in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance.

2 thoughts on “Review: “The Circle” by Mats Strandberg & Sara Bergmark Elfgren

  1. Pingback: Usagi’s challenges for 2013 | birth of a new witch.

  2. Pingback: Stacking the Shelves: Week 47 | birth of a new witch.

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