Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre — New Review

I don’t read science-fiction, but I’d enjoyed Black Widow by Chris Brookmyre, so I thought I’d give Places in the Darkness a go, hoping it would be more  a detective story set in space than a science-fiction novel. It turned out to be an equal mix of both. I was impatient with the sci-fi worldbuilding which needed to happen before the detective work could begin, and my initial feeling was that Places in the Darkness was too much like hard work. The narrative didn’t properly catch my interest until Alice and Nikki met up, and their two perspectives started to overlap to tell the story.

This is the most advanced place in the history of human civilisation, and yet some people seem intent on recreating a mid-nineteenth-century frontier town, or maybe Chicago circa the 1920s.

Places in the Darkness, Chris Brookmyre

Places in the Darkness isn’t the kind of crime novel you could solve as you were reading, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The narrative does include clues to things which happen later, but they’re working more on a system of keeping the reader interested in uncovering the truth about the world than they are actually helping fit pieces together to solve the central puzzle. There is so much going on in the novel that at least once Chris Brookmyre returned to a clue he’d planted and I’d forgotten about it — not something that happens with straightforward murder mysteries. Chris Brookmyre does something similar with the themes of the novel, laying the groundwork well in advance of the dramatic reveal, which makes the whole novel feel really clever.

That selfish voice inside her asks why she is prepared to go through this in a probably doomed attempt to rescue some crazy girl she’s barely met and who is most likely already dead anyway. But then, that selfish voice has been running the show for too many years, and nothing got better for her listening to it.

Places in the Darkness, Chris Brookmyre

Combined with the setting, the occasional moments of clever wordplay in the prose put me in mind of Douglas Adams, though nothing about Places in the Darkness feels absurdist or random. Chris Brookmyre has clearly carefully plotted the novel, and the twists took me by surprise in exactly the right way.

Places in the Darkness is an exciting book, and I’m glad I ventured outside my comfort zone to read it. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Ex Machina. 

Next, I’ll be reading The Universe is Expanding and so Am I by Carolyn Mackler.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard — New Review

I positively raced through The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr. After a slightly disorientating beginning — there were a lot of capitalised nouns clustered together in the first few pages, and I found it was affecting the way I voiced the prose in my mind — it was very easy to read. Elvira suffers from a Condition, and the book is written from her first person perspective, but it’s very clear. I did wonder at times how accurate it was to nuero-atypical people, because some of the terminology wasn’t what I’ve come across before. I definitely found myself rooting for Elvira right from the beginning, wanting her to succeed at life and grow as a person.

Maria found a CD called Chilled Classics, not one that Mother owned. “We give it go,” said Maria. “Perhaps it calming.”
It wasn’t.

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr, Frances Maynard

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr, Frances Maynard

The mystery aspect didn’t live up to the strong character development, at least for me. There are things that Elvira doesn’t understand, because of her Condition, which were quite obvious to me as a reader, and that meant I always felt like I was one step ahead with working out the plot about her father. I read quickly because I wanted to get to the point where Elvira solved the mystery, but none of it was really surprising. I enjoyed reading about Elvira going out into the world and meeting new people more than I enjoyed any of the answering of suspenseful questions.

I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys strong character development in their novels, but probably not to anyone who reads primarily for plot.

Next, I’ll be reading Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta — Reread Review

Picking up Finnikin of the Rock was a no-brainer for me. I already loved Melina Marchetta from reading Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son, so discovering that she’d also written a series in my favourite genre was pure delight. I bought Finnikin of the Rock in ebook form, so it was only when I came to write this review that I realised The Lumatere Chronicles are apparently shelved as children’s/teenage fiction. I’d argue that’s a miscategorisation, because Finnikin of the Rock gets dark. Melina Marchetta has a habit of putting her characters in truly bleak, awful situations – and then rescuing them. At points, especially in the first half, it reminded me of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The horror of what happens to these characters got under my skin in the same kind of way.

Finnikin’s last image of Lumatere, as he slid beneath the jaws of the iron gate, was of a family separated.

Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta

The whole book revolves around themes of exile, of losing a home – a kingdom – and the choice between trying to take it back or trying to settle somewhere else. These are themes that really resonate with me, as someone who grew up moving between countries, and they’re what I remembered most from my first reading of Finnikin of the Rock. The idea of a whole kingdom of exiles, separated from their native land by magic, isn’t one I’ve seen in any other fantasy novel. It feels original, and though Finnikin of the Rock does feature a few fantasy tropes, they’re used in ways that feel different.

Lumaterans were nothing if not sentimental, drawn to any place that resembled the physical landscape of their lost world.

Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta

Above all else, though, Finnikin of the Rock is a deeply emotional novel. Melina Marchetta writes heartrendingly about loss, family and war. I really felt what the characters were feeling, and Finnikin of the Rock gets the dubious honour of being added to my ‘made me cry‘ shelf on goodreads. The second half — and it is nearly half, though I’d compressed it into a few chapters in my memory — is about recovery, and rebuilding. It’s much more hopeful, and the story ends on a satisfying high note. I didn’t absolutely need to rush out and read the second book in the trilogy, and this could honestly work as a standalone novel, but I’ll read Froi of the Exiles sooner or later anyway, because I love Melina Marchetta so much.

I’d recommend this to anyone who likes any of Melina Marchetta’s works, and to anyone who enjoyed the emotional impact of Outlander.

Next I’ll be reading The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Fandom by Anna Day — New Review

Before I read The Fandom by Anna Day, I had this idea that I don’t like books in which real-world characters are sucked into a fictional or fantasy world. The Fandom and The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay made me reconsider. I think actually what I don’t like is that inevitable moment of dramatic irony where the reader knows (because it was on the back of the book) that the characters are in a magical/fictional world, but that characters haven’t figured it out yet, and their monologue is about how it’s such a convincing film set, or whatever. From a character realism perspective, you have to have that moment, but narratively it adds nothing, and it makes me cringe. Luckily, The Fandom didn’t dwell on that for too long, and started to immediately do far more interesting things.

Their physiques aren’t quite right — too skinny, slightly stooped, broad in the wrong places. I actually feel a little relieved, just seeing their humanity staring back at me.

The Fandom, Anna Day

The Fandom, Anna Day

The idea of Violet, the main character, experiencing her favourite book and movie as a real place was intriguing, and pulled me quickly into The Fandom. Violet’s emotions vacillate between excitement at meeting beloved characters and horror as the violence and deprivation of a dystopian society unfold around her. There are even meta-fictional references to tropes found in dystopian YA novels, which I appreciated despite the fact that’s not a genre I’m terribly familiar with. More than that, Anna Day clearly put a lot of world-building into The Gallows Dance (the book-within-a-book), and it pays off as Violet observes how much richer and more detailed the world is than the novel was able to convey. It made me wonder what details I would notice if I was transported into my favourite novel, but it also made me grateful I don’t have to experience quite that much ‘adventure’.

I notice the poster of President Stoneback hangs from the wall, softened by rainwater and torn by wind, same as the film. But this president has horns drawn on his head and a noose scribbled around his throat: detail which didn’t make it into the book, or the film, or my own mental image.

The Fandom, Anna Day

The Fandom, Anna Day

The plot, once it gets underway, keeps up the momentum and is genuinely exciting. Most of the characters are pretty great, and although the emotion didn’t get me in the way books sometimes do, it was definitely an enjoyable read. I have to admit, there was one aspect of the ending that I predicted a mile off, but even with that in the back of my mind, there were unexpected twists that I think Anna Day pulled off successfully.

Overall, The Fandom has a lot going for it. I’d recommend it to readers who enjoyed The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay, The Magicians by Lev Grossman or Frozen.

Next, I’ll be rereading Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta.

Rating: 3 out of 5.