The Song of Seven: A Read-it-if Review…

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If you are a fan of classic children’s literature of the style of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and even Enid Blyton (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) then I will be pleased to introduce you to another author who definitely belongs within the ranks of these writers, but of whom you have probably never heard.  Today’s book is The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt, which was first published in 1967 under the title De Zevensprong, in the original Dutch.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from Allen & Unwin for review – a copy which Laura Watkinson has ably translated for its release in English and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the end of every schoolday, new teacher Mr Van der Steg entertains his pupils with tall tales of incredible events, which he claims really happened to him – involving hungry lions and haunted castles, shipwrecks and desert islands. One day, when he can’t think of anything suitably exciting to tell them, he invents a story about a very important letter which he’s expecting that evening, with news of a perilous mission. Evening arrives and so, to his surprise, does an enigmatic letter…

And so Mr Van der Steg is drawn into a real-life adventure, featuring a grumpy coachman, a sinister uncle, eccentric ancestors, a hidden treasure, an ancient prophecy and Geert-Jan, a young boy who is being kept prisoner in the mysterious House of Stairs. Although the treasure rightfully belongs to Geert-Jan, his uncle is determined to seize it for himself. As Mr Van der Steg, with the help of his pupils, sets out to rescue the boy, he becomes more and more entangled with the strange history of the Seven Ways, the House of Stairs and the powerful Conspiracy of Seven.

 

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The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November, 2016.  RRP: $29.99

 

Read it if:

*you are a fan of classic old children’s literature in the vein of C. S. Lewis’s early Narnia tales

*you can’t go past a story that involves a tricky riddle, a grand old house and getting out of school work to listen to stories

*you are the type of person who, when a complete stranger turns up to your house in a mysterious coach in the night and tells you to hop in, would probably put down your hot chocolate, kick off your bunny slippers and climb aboard

*you’ve ever been invited to an illicit party that really brought the house down

After having put Dragt’s The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood on my TBR list when they first came out, but never having got to reading them, I was excited to see The Song of Seven released, not least because it’s a standalone novel.  It took me a couple of chapters of delightfully vintage-feeling prose before I looked at the publishing information to find that rather than just being vintage-feeling, the text actually was vintage!  I must applaud Laura Watkinson, the translator, for recreating that nostalgic tone of great children’s literature of times gone by in this contemporary English release, because the story just oozes retro charm.

The most interesting thing about this book for young readers is that the protagonist, Frans van der Steg (or Frans the Red, as he calls himself when telling stories to his class) is an adult, and more than that, a schoolteacher!  It’s so rare to find contemporary children’s stories that aren’t told from a child’s perspective these days that it certainly made the book immediately stand out for me as something different, and perhaps even timeless, as no doubt to a child, an adult is an adult is an adult, no matter what historical period you find them in.  In fact, apart from the supporting cast of Frans’ class and Geert-Jan, the boy confined in the House of Stairs, all of the main characters are adults.  This collection of unlikely  companions makes up a group of conspirators, who are invested in dealing with the prophecy connected with the House of Stairs, and Geert-Jan himself.

While the vintage tone of the book was definitely refreshing and cosy to fall in to, I did find that there were a lot of chapters in which not a lot happened.  The author seems to delight in leaving Frans the Red in the lurch, and just when it seems he is about to make a breakthrough regarding the conspiracy, his fellow conspirators decide not to tell him, or something happens to ensure that the next key piece of information is left dangling, like a carrot on a stick, for Frans and the reader to chase.

Once Frans makes it into the House of Stairs as Geert-Jan’s tutor, however, the pace begins to pick up and we are treated to yet more oddball adult characters, as well as a setting that must be seen to be believed.  The climax of the tale comes together quite quickly and it is an exciting and unexpected ending that balances out the slower pace of the first half of the story.  Throughout the book there is a definite sense of magical realism lurking behind the ordinary happenings, the fact that one of the characters is a magician notwithstanding.  Even though I wouldn’t class this as a typical fantasy book, there is an undeniable undercurrent of the uncommon and extraordinary between the lines of each page.

If you have a confident, independent reader in your dwelling who isn’t afraid to solve a riddle, and wishes that their classroom teacher would spend a good portion of each day telling stories, then you should definitely nudge The Song of Seven in their general direction.  If you are an adult fan of books for young readers and you love a book where the magic is in the nuance of the story, then I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Snow Rose…

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If you are looking for something to keep you occupied over the Christmas break – either cosied up in front of a roaring fire or barricaded in an air-conditioned room – then today’s book is definitely one to consider.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to love this one because it’s not my usual sort of adult fiction, but The Snow Rose by Lulu Taylor, which we received for review from PanMacmillan Australia, sucked me in hook, line and sinker.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Kate is on the run with her daughter, her identity hidden and her destination unknown to her husband and family. She’s found a place where she and Heather can be alone and safe, a huge old house full of empty rooms. But it turns out she’s not alone. There are the strange old ladies in the cottage next door, Matty and her blind sister Sissy. How long can Kate hide Heather’s presence from them? And then the newcomers arrive, the band of eccentrics led by the charming and charismatic Archer. Kate begins to realize that she is involved in something strange and dangerous, and the past she’s so desperate to escape is about to find her . . .

snow-rose

Read it if:

*you are a fan of stories that seamlessly blend contemporary and historical fiction in a twisty, intertwined way

*the idea of running away to a beautiful old isolated house sounds like paradise when adulting becomes all too much

*you prefer to organise your holiday accommodation through mysterious, untraceable companies offering employment to single ladies

*the likelihood of you being manipulated by a swindler is directly proportional to the youth, attractiveness, wealth and charisma of said swindler

What an absorbing book I found this to be!  The story turned out to be little of what I expected, but better than my expectations nonetheless.  The first thing you should know about The Snow Rose is that it is not one story, but two (possibly even three, depending on how you look at it) related but separate stories.  The first plotline features Kate, who has run away with her daughter for reasons that are only hinted at in the beginning, but become clear further down the track.  The second, related, storyline features past residents of the house, whose experience appears to be repeating itself with its new residents.  As well as those two main storylines, there are also segues into moments in the present that look to be history repeating, and some focus on the people that Kate left behind when she left.  All in all, this isn’t a basic relationship/finding-oneself type novel, as I expected it might be, but a complex, intricately woven combination of historical fiction and contemporary fiction with a hint of speculative fiction and the briefest of nods toward the paranormal thrown in.

The thing that I found most appealing about The Snow Rose was the fact that Kate, as the main character, seemed to be constantly evolving in her understanding of her bizarre situation and how it came to pass.  At no point was I able to predict how her story would turn out because she is, in some senses, unreliable in her insight into her motivations and the outcomes that she is chasing.  The old ladies that she meets while caretaking at the Big House, Sissy and Matty, provide a balance to Kate’s chaotic situation but also throw in new factors to complicate matters – Are they who they say they are?  What do they actually know about the house’s history?  Can they help Kate find her feet?

I loved the historical sections of the book.  Apart from being an abrupt change of pace from the contemporary sections featuring Kate, the characters in the historical section were so vivid and the events so surprising that I was happy to keep coming back to this time period to see what might happen next.  Like Kate, the main character in the historical plot line, Letty, is also going through some turbulent personal growth.

I suppose there may be some readers of this story who dislike the more bizarre, unexpected elements of it, given that these elements are quite unlikely, but these are exactly what lifted the story above your typical tortured soul story in my view. Kate’s story isn’t predictable.  It is quite unlikely.  There are elements throughout that will have the reader questioning what is real and what is not.  And it’s these characteristics that had me totally absorbed in the lives of the characters.

I’d highly recommend this for readers who want to lose themselves in someone else’s life, because in the coiling plotlines of The Snow Rose, there is plenty of opportunity to do so.

Until next time,

Bruce

Crafting with Feminism: A Read-it-if Review…

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Today’s book is one that is quite timely given recent happenings in the US and certain behaviours and statements from a high-profile man whose name rhymes with “dump”, “rump” and “where the hell did you Americans find this chump?”.  You know who I mean.  We received a copy of Crafting with Feminism: 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy by Bonnie Burton from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This is what a feminist crafter looks like! Wear your ideology on your sleeve by creating feminist merit badges (like “started an all-girl band” or “rocked roller derby”). Prove that the political is personal with DIY power panties (“No means no”). Craft great feminist hero finger puppets (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Frida Kahlo) or googly-eyed tampon buddies. Fun sidebars provide background on (s)heroes of the feminist movement.

crafting-with-feminism

Read it if:

*you’ve been looking for a simple, visible and slightly absurd way to stick it to the (random) man

*you’re hosting the next gathering of your Stitch and Bitch group and would also like to use up the last bits of bleach, glitter and fluffy fabric lying around in your craft drawer

*no one has ever described you as a shrinking violet

All in all, this is a bit of a silly book, with outlandish craft activities and a decent amount of tongue-in-cheek humour.  But really, if there are craft books out there exhorting us to craft with cat hair or knit one’s own lingerie, why the hell shouldn’t there be a book featuring tutorials on creating vagina-shaped tree ornaments?  Each to her own, I say.

Squarely aimed at the more “out-there” sort of feminist who is not afraid of body parts or inflammatory slogans, the book has step-by-step instructions on everything from felt merit badges (“Leg hair, don’t care” being my personal favourite), to stained glass candle decorations featuring strong female role-models (crafter’s own choice), and a huggable uterus body pillow, as well as the aforementioned vaginaments.  The crafts mostly seem to be aimed at beginners, with no crochet or knit projects included (which Mad Martha found quite interesting), using basic sewing and other techniques that don’t need a lot of practice or preparation beforehand.

Between each project there are full-page quotes from famous ladies of history and handy lists of feminist-themed movies, books, songs and holidays, as well as suggestions for how to host a fun feminist crafternoon.  Templates and information on supplies are listed throughout.

I don’t want to get bogged down in how truly feminist or otherwise the book is, but the projects clearly lean toward the sort of female-only feminism that excludes males from the conversation (and therefore from assisting in the fight for equality), which may be considered by some to be an outdated focus of the movement.  On the other hand, it could be considered a champion of the safe-space, in which females are allowed to claim their bodies, voices and means of expression in whatever form they please.

Or, you know, it could just be intended as a fun, slightly outrageous crafting book and maybe we’re all overthinking it.

As craft books go, I’ve certainly come across weirder offerings, and as Mad Martha has already started rifling through the fabric box to find something suitably shiny from which to create her own “Feminist KillJoy” sash, I think I can safely say that this book will find a home with fun-loving ladies of a subversive nature.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Easy Way Out: An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review…

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Before I kick off, I should probably mention that WordPress kindly reminded me that it was my four-year blogiversary a few days ago, so have a celebratory snack on me, if you like.

Today’s book is one that will inspire conversation, get your little grey cells pumping and place you in an ethical conundrum from which there may be no return.  It’s also an enjoyable read.  I speak of The Easy Way Out by Stephen Amsterdam, which we received from Hachette Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If you could help someone in pain, would you?

Evan is a nurse, a suicide assistant. His job is legal . . . just. He’s the one at the hospital who hands out the last drink to those who ask for it.

Evan’s friends don’t know what he does during the day. His mother, Viv, doesn’t know what he’s up to at night. And his supervisor suspects there may be trouble ahead.

As he helps one patient after another die, Evan pushes against legality, his own morality and the best intentions of those closest to him, discovering that his own path will be neither quick nor painless.

He knows what he has to do.

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Steven Amsterdam challenges readers to face the most taboo and heartbreaking of dilemmas. Would you help someone end their life?

the-easy-way-out

Read it if:

* you think George R. R. Martin got it right and prefer a book where nearly everyone dies by the end

*you suspect you’ve got the right sort of temperament, character and belief system to fill the role of a nurse in the assisted-dying unit

*you’re looking for a book that the people in your book club will actually read – instead of pretend to read

*you like books about big issues that don’t rely on preachiness or shock tactics to present their message

This isn’t the first novel featuring assisted dying (or euthanasia or suicide or whatever you want to call it) I’ve read, but Amsterdam impressed me here with the subtle way in which the topic has been approached.  That might seem like an odd statement to make – a book that plainly states that it’s about assisted dying might hardly be deemed to be “subtle” – but Amsterdam has done a brilliant job of laying out many of the complexities, be they legal, ethical or practical, that surround the idea of assisted dying and allowing the reader to absorb these without steering the discourse in a particular direction.

Without making it obvious, the author has included all types of end-of-life choices throughout the novel, including suicide of the conventional type (if we can call it that), the “pre-planned” type of assisted dying that features a clear end-of-life directive, the “look the other way” sort of medically assisted dying that goes on in hospitals all the time for those who are terminally ill and in pain, and the “legally sanctioned” assisted dying of which Evan’s job is a key part.  Simply by including a wide range of characters whose deaths impact on the story, Amsterdam has neatly thrown out the question to both advocates and those opposing an individual’s right to choose their death as to how this concept can be managed realistically.

If you’re the sort of person who has strong views on whether or not an individual should have the right to choose the manner and time of their death, this book is going to provide plenty of fodder for your thought-processes.  Should a mentally ill or socially isolated person have the same access to end-of-life processes as a terminally ill person, for instance?  Should a family’s objections to an end-of-life choice have a bearing on the access to assisted death of the person choosing to die?  What should happen if the person has made a clear choice but is physically unable to carry it out by the time the legal processes are finalised?  I certainly don’t have the answers, but I’m glad that this book has raised these questions (and more!) for pondering.

I should also point out the ending is satisfyingly ambiguous also, which is a clever touch.

Apart from being an “issues” book, The Easy Way Out is also an absorbing and highly readable novel.  Depending on how deeply you want to engage with the ethical content of the story, the book could certainly be read as a sort of grown-up “coming of age” novel that just happens to feature a main character in a highly unusual job.  Evan, the protagonist, does an awful lot of growing and soul-searching throughout the novel as things he thought were clear in his mind become muddied by one life experience or another.  His relationships, family history and work environment all force him to re-evaluate things he thought were obvious, and as his situation changes, so too does his ability to be sure of his decisions.  I particularly liked the authenticity of Evan as a character and the fact that he sits in that hazy position in which most of us have found ourselves at one time or another – that of being completely sure of something until we aren’t – and the absolute upheaval that this can cause on a personal level.

If you’re looking for a reasonably quick read that also provides some food for thought and a cast of fascinating characters, I’d definitely recommend taking The Easy Way Out…off the shelf and giving it a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Nevernight: A YA, Read-it-if Review…

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You might want to put aside any distractions before reading this review, because today’s book is one that will require your full attention.  Nevernight by Jay Kristoff is a new release YA (although probably closer to adult) fiction novel set in a whole new world that is worth diving into if you have the time to devote to it.  There’s a great deal of buzz around this book at the moment, and having finally finished it, we can see why it’s receiving such high praise.  We received our copy from HarperCollins Australia for review (thanks!) and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Destined to destroy empires Mia Covere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Six years later, the child raised in the shadows takes her first steps towards keeping the promise she made on the day that she lost everything.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, so if she is to have her revenge, Mia must become a weapon without equal. She must prove herself against the deadliest of friends and enemies, and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and demons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Red Church is no Hogwarts, but Mia is no ordinary student. The shadows loves her. And they drink her fear.

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Read it if:

*you loved Harry Potter but wished it could have had about 98% more throat-slitting action

*you loved Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Trilogy but wished it could have had about 76% more throat-slitting action

*you can’t go past a book that features incredibly violent acts described in potently lyrical fashion

*you don’t mind lugging around a book whose size makes it equally suited to acting as a doorstop for a giant’s doggy door or clubbing baby seals to death

*you have been aching, yearning, praying for an upper YA (really, almost adult fiction) tale set in a wholly original world, featuring deeply explored characters, evocative and masterful prose and the promise of a trilogy that is worth waiting for

Two things I have to tell you about this book straight off are: (1) It’s a right old chunker at 643 pages and (2) while the writing was obviously of a high quality right from the very first page, this one was a slow-burn for us, but one that we warmed to more and more as time went on.  Initially, on seeing how big this book is, I didn’t think I’d be able to get through it in a reasonable amount of time given my review schedule, but the first few chapters are so lyrically written, with such a distinctive and engaging voice, that I was sucked in almost immediately.

The book is split into three parts.  The first deals mostly with Mia’s family history and the events that have led her to seeking a place in the Red Church – the guild (society? club? religion?) of murderers and assassins.  Straight off the bat there are some pretty explicit sex scenes and hardcore language, so I wouldn’t be passing this one on to any thirteen-year-olds unless they are of the particularly worldly variety.  The second part felt like nothing so much as a Hogwarts for murderers, and although it seems odd for such graphic content, the middle of the book really did exude an undercurrent of every “boarding school” story ever written (although with far less ginger beer and midnight feasts).  I was definitely far more engaged during this part of the story, but it was also during this section that I started to lose hope that I would ever finish.

So I put the book down.  Faced with the pressures to finish such a massive tome, I crumbled and nearly decided to abandon it, despite my enjoyment of the story.

But then….then my friends, fate threw me a line.

I somehow managed to find some uninterrupted reading time and decided to plough on with Nevernight until I finished (or died in the attempt).  And it was in doing so, that I really found an attachment to the story and the characters.

By the third part of the story, there have been so many killings that it’s a wonder anyone is left in the Red Church at all.  In fact, if you removed every mention of a slit throat, stabbed chest, or other flesh wound, I am certain that this book would come in at under 200 pages.  Regardless, the action takes a dramatic upswing in this final chapter as twists abound and all that we thought was a given is swooshed around and turned on its head.  Given the originality of the world here, I couldn’t really predict what might happen in the end anyway, but still I was surprised by the ending.  The final section of the book reminded me strongly of Garth Nix’s Lirael (the second of the Old Kingdom Trilogy and my favourite of the three), as Mia and Lirael’s stories resonated in certain parts and I found myself becoming far more sympathetic to Mia’s character.

Nevernight is definitely the kind of book that deserves undivided attention.   Once I found some time to devote solely to immersing myself in the story, my enjoyment in it doubled, so I would suggest if you are going to pick it up, to make it your “one and only” book until you’ve finished it.  The writing and world-building are hugely original and are best appreciated when given time to percolate through your brain.  While none of the characters are saints (nor claim to be), they are the most memorable bunch of cold-blooded murderers you could ever hope not to meet and I recommend delving into their story.

I can’t even imagine how the next two books in the series will pan out.

Until next time,

Bruce

Poison City: An Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review

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After a week of kidlit, I’ve got a grown-up book for you today, full of supernatural menace and shady police work.  We received Poison City by Paul Crilley from the publisher via Netgalley for review and were quite amazed to find out how closely it resembles one of our favourite supernatural police series….at least in the opening chapters.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The name’s Gideon Tau, but everyone just calls me London. I work for the Delphic Division, the occult investigative unit of the South African Police Service. My life revolves around two things – finding out who killed my daughter and imagining what I’m going to do to the bastard when I catch him.

I have two friends. The first is my boss, Armitage, a fifty-something DCI from Yorkshire who looks more like someone’s mother than a cop. Don’t let that fool you. The second is the dog, my magical spirit guide. He talks, he watches TV all day, and he’s a mean drunk.

Life is pretty routine – I solve crimes, I search for my daughter’s killer. Wash, rinse, repeat. Until the day I’m called out to the murder of a ramanga – a low-key vampire – basically, the tabloid journalist of the vampire world. It looks like an open and shut case. There’s even CCTV footage of the killer.

Except… the face on the CCTV footage? It’s the face of the man who killed my daughter. I’m about to face a tough choice. Catch her killer or save the world? I can’t do both.

It’s not looking good for the world.

Poison City is the first in a fantastical new series for fans of Ben Aaronovitch, Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz and Stephen King.

poison city

Read it if:

*you think there should be more supernatural police dramas set in South Africa

*you suspect your dog might have a problem with alcohol

*you wish there was a clever narrative device springing from which, when a favourite character dies, is a cheeky method of slotting them straight back into the story

*for you, diversity in literature means opening up the floor to gods, goddesses, spooks and ghouls from every nation and creed

*you are really just hoping to find a gritty, edgy, funny, violent, unexpected police series that happens to feature vampires, orishas and the Almighty

Poison City was an unexpected find.  Having seen a brief review of it and become intrigued by the possibility of an alcoholic, talking dog, I knew it was only a matter of time before I laid claw on it.  What I didn’t expect was how much it reminded me of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series.  This is one of the Shelf’s favourite series ever (and we can’t wait to receive book six, The Hanging Tree, on pre-order any day now!).  Honestly, the first few chapters of Poison City read exactly as if Peter Grant had moved to South Africa, suffered a great personal tragedy, and taken to hanging out with an alcoholic, talking dog.  While this felt a bit weird to being with, it certainly helped me to ease into the story.

The book features the (mis)adventures of “London” Tau, who works at the police department’s Delphic Division, solving crimes that involve creatures not of this world.  Or at least, not of the human part of this world.  The alcoholic, talking dog is his slightly sub-par spirit guide, who spends most of his time sleeping and generally not being very helpful. I had high expectations for the dog, but I feel he was a bit underused, as Tau spends most of his time, rather unsurprisingly I suppose, solving mysteries with his partner.  Police partner, that is.

The book is far more violent and edgy than the Peter Grant series, with some pretty graphic scenes of gore and hearts being ripped out and so forth.  If that’s not your bag, you probably aren’t going to want to venture into this one.  By the end, I was a bit put off by all the violence, but I have to admit that the last few chapters certainly culminated in some surprising revelations about who was behind the dramas causing headaches for Tau.

Overall, this was a fast-paced, action-packed read, punctuated with humour and twists that I certainly didn’t see coming.  If you are up for a fairly graphic police procedural with an ungodly twist, then I can definitely recommend Poison City as a worthy choice.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Remade: A Jelly-Legs-Inducing, YA Read-it-if Review…

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Even though today’s book is pitched at YA readers, it is not for the faint of heart!  Remade by Alex Scarrow is a post-apocalyptic thriller that, suprisingly, given our general aversion to post-apocalyptic fare, we couldn’t devour fast enough.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Leon and his younger sister, Grace, have recently moved to London from New York and are struggling to settle into their new school when rumours of an unidentified virus in Africa begin to fill the news. Within a week the virus hits London. The siblings witness people turning to liquid before their eyes, and they run for their lives. A month after touching Earth’s atmosphere the virus has assimilated the world’s biomass. But the virus isn’t their only enemy, and survival is just the first step . . .

remade

Read it if:

*your response to any kind of catastrophe, from burning the toast to the coming of the end of days, is decidedly British: to have a cup of tea and a good lie down

*when you hear potential bad news reported in the media, your first port-of-call is a web forum for conspiracy theorists to find out what’s REALLY going on

*you don’t care for train travel (or indeed, public transport of any kind) on account of the fact that it provides no escape from the press of unwashed humanity

*you firmly believe that even though the human race has been reduced to a handful of scraggly survivors, that’s no reason to abandon good manners

The suspense in the opening chapters of this book was so craftily built up that it snatched me with its suspenseful claws and had me halfway through the book before I stopped for a break.  I knocked the rest over in just a few short sittings and I am pleased to say that this is a quality series opener with a very creepy premise.  Essentially, a virus appears in Africa with the unfortunate consequence that those who acquire it become reduced to jelly and then bones within minutes.  Worse than that however, is the suggestion that the virus may actually go looking for further quarry once the original host has been devoured.

Once it becomes obvious that the virus isn’t some 48-hour flash in the pan, there is a sense of inevitability exuded in the narration of the story.  Leon, Grace and their mother, while attempting to flee the spread of the virus, retain a certain resignation that infection and jellification will feature largely in their individual near-futures.  There was something about the inescapable nature of this virus and the extremely short-term goal setting it inspires in the main characters that was reassuring to me and I think allowed me to enjoy this story more than other post-apocalyptic YA novels I’ve read.  I didn’t have to worry about the ways in which they might achieve survival months or years down the track because there was a very real chance that they would be nought but a pile of bones within the next few moments.

My favourite part of the novel is an over-riding sense of Britishness that pervades it.  I realise that politeness and orderliness are not solely the province of the British, but there was such a feeling of warm familiarity that came over me as I was reading – particularly during the scene on the train – that I allowed myself a little chuckle at the fact that even during the collapse of civilisation, these characters were still prepared to maintain a semblance of decorum,  stiff-upper-lippedness and general good manners.

The virus itself is a clever character, if I may use that term, because it is unlike any virus that microbiologists have yet encountered.  It seems to evolve in stages, developing different ways of threatening those it didn’t mince first time around, thus providing for new and interesting dangers for our protagonists beyond the immediate run away screaming type response.   The ending provides a fantastic cliff-hanger in this regard and I would be interested to see where the story goes next.  Having said that, there is enough action and creepiness and character building going on in this novel to ward off feelings of desperation regarding the next stage in the story.

There are a few aspects of the plot that might grate on more seasoned readers of post-apocalyptic tales than I (convenient access to resources required for survival, for instance) and I did have a few questions when the reason behind the protagonists supposed “immunity” was revealed (namely that, based on my casual, and not at all scientific, calculations, I would have expected a much higher rate of survival given the key “immunity” factor).  These plot holes didn’t bother me too much though, mainly due to the absorbing action of the story and the excellent pacing.

While I will keep an eye out for the next book, I’m satisfied to wait for a bit and digest (pardon the pun) the relationships and character growth presented in this impressive offering.  I’d definitely recommend having a bash at this one if you are looking for a good old-fashioned scare-a-thon with a large helping of hope.

Until next time,

Bruce