Book Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_sudden_appearance_of_hopeThe world began to forget Hope Arden when she was sixteen years old. Her father forgot to drive her to school, her mother set the table for three instead of four. Her teacher forgets she’s a member of the class. Friends slowly but surely forget she exists and look straight through her.

Drifting away, leaving home and fending for herself she finds herself stealing to survive, fencing what she steals. Everybody forgets what she looks like which she uses to her advantage but makes her dangerous. She moves in circles and a world that then uses her talents to their advantage.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the complex character that is Hope Arden. I found myself imagining what it would be like to be totally forgotten even minutes after meeting someone. It’s a fascinating read, with a twist that I didn’t see coming.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Sudden Appearance of Hope
by Claire North
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356504537

Book Review: Fellside, by M R Carey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fellsideFellside is a prison, a correctional facility for women to be precise, where three thousand women ‘form a community committed to a practical ideal of rehabilitation’. Sounds idyllic. Not. A women’s prison is not a place that most people get to see the inside of, but we sure get plenty of insight from programmes like Bad Girls, Orange is the New Black, and Wentworth. Really tough women, young and old, fighting to survive. Fellside is no different.

There have been a number of best-selling novels in the last few years which have as their central premise a young woman who has suffered memory loss. Jess Moulson is yet another young woman in the unfortunate position of having her life dramatically affected by amnesia.

The story opens with Jess regaining consciousness in a hospital bed, handcuffed to the bed, being treated for serious burns, smoke inhalation. Gradually, she remembers that she was involved in a fire in her flat that led to the death of a ten-year-old boy who lived in the flat upstairs. Jess is a drug addict and has vague recollection that she set the fire for reasons that she can’t quite recall. By page 25 she has been found guilty of murder, the subject of the most awful press coverage, and sentenced to Fellside. Her court-appointed lawyer is doubtful that the full and factual story has come out but can’t get Jess to see sense, her guilt at the death of young Alex completely overwhelming her.

So life in prison begins, and it’s not a bed of roses. Now, I am not a fan of supernatural or fantasy fiction, I really just do not get it. But very cleverly the author who, under a pen name has written for Marvel comics and writes his own graphic fiction, introduces what can only be called a ghost character – a young boy who comes to Jess in her sleep, in her dreams, taking her with him to his world. She is convinced this is the spirit of Alex, and gradually realises that he is helping her to see what really happened the night of the fire. And so the mystery of Alex’s death begins to be solved.

But it is definitely creepy, weird and unsettling. At the same time as Jess is moving between the real world and the spirit world, she has to adapt to prison life in all its ruthlessness, cruelty, bent prison officers, and survival of the fittest code. It is pretty grim. What was interesting and did help to soften the brutality was the back stories of the prisoners and how they came to be in Fellside, including Jess’s own story. As awful as they all are, terrible things happened to the women that led them to prison, so it is hardly surprising the terror continues.

At nearly 500 pages, already one can see that there is lot going on in this novel. It is tricky to define what sort of novel it is – a psychological thriller? Murder mystery? Supernatural? Fantasy? Horror? At times it does wobble, and for me, I did lose my way with all the wanderings Jess and Alex’s spirit do in the pursuit of justice. But living in such a prison environment, wouldn’t you too want to escape to inside your head?

If you get past all the spooky action, then this is actually quite a riveting story. Life in the prison is graphically depicted, all the characters are very well drawn with great depth, there are lots of twists in the plot and surprises. And in the end, justice is served.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Fellside
by M.R. Carey
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356503592

Book Review: The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_water_knife

I read the highly-acclaimed The Wind-up Girl several years ago, and loved it, so of course I was very keen to see what Bacigalupi had to say next. The books have government-sanctioned eco-terrorism in common, but this book was just a bit more alarmingly realistic, probably because of its setting – Phoenix, Arizona. As the title suggests, this story is set in a broken world, where aquifers have run dry, and the only water still available is via company-sponsored pipelines from the Colorado River.

The Water Knife of the title is an ex-con named Angel, hired for his unblinking toughness in the face of reason, and brought up through the levels of his organisation for his loyalty to his boss, Catherine Case. The novel begins in Carver City, where Angel and his team drop in on Black Hawk helicopters to sever the water supply via bombing. Angel’s job is to cut – hence the title, Water Knife. The novel ends in the same place it begins.

The story is told from three perspectives. As well as Angel, we hear from the voice of Lucy, a hardnosed reporter, ‘She’s won a Pulitzer, man,’ who came to Phoenix for the stories, and became addicted to the delicate balance between life and death. Her friend Jamie is murdered, and she is determined to figure out which shady syndicate is responsible, and what information they were trying to extract at the time.

Our third voice is Maria, a Texan who lives on the breadline and takes her fortunes wherever she can find them. Texans are reviled in Arizona, seen as freeloaders. She has been convinced by her roommate Sarah, a prostitute, to come with her to the club she visits with her regular john, Michael Ratan. After a night high on ‘bubble’ she wakes in his apartment, which is in an arcology – a self-sustaining environment where water is endlessly recycled. The apartment is ambushed and Ratan and her friend end up shot, as she cowers under the bed. She is found by Angel, who has arrived to investigate why one of Case’s men – Julio – is suddenly running scared, and traced some leads to Ratan a little too late.

The thread that runs through this story seems like a shaggy dog story, and indeed this is how it is viewed by many of the players. It seems as though Ratan has uncovered valuable Indian Water Rights, and his greed sees him end up dead. But at whose hands, and which side is in the right? And how was Jamie mixed up in this? Do these rights even exist, or are they a ploy invented by a desperate man? The denouement of the novel is something straight out of an action movie: hellfire and guns ahoy. As this is set (not terribly far) in the future, there are a few handy technological advances, which see internal organs being replenished through a drip after gunshot wounds.

I read most of this novel in a couple of days, thanks to delayed planes, and it certainly heightened the tension. If you have ever wondered how screwed up the world would be without water, with money- and power-hungry leaders dividing states in Midwest America, read this book. It’s a sobering thought, brought to vivid reality by the able hands of Paolo Bacigalupi. This is a full-tilt eco-terrorism thriller, with plenty of depth and some fascinating characters.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Water Knife
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Published by Orbit, distributed by Hachette NZ
ISBN 9780356502120

Book Review: Resistance is Futile, by Jenny Colgan

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_resistance_is_futile

Resistance is Futile is both fun and carries a few surprises, especially for those that were expecting something more along the lines of Colgan’s earlier novels – which are more standard, feel-good romances (excluding the Dr Who ones, of course). Resistance is Futile has been described as Bridget Jones meets the Matrix, and although I am not entirely sure how accurate the description is, it does give you some idea of what to expect.

Connie is a mathematical genius, one of the top in her field, and when she is offered a position at a highly acclaimed university, she jumps at the chance. When she arrives there, however, things are not entirely as expected. For a start, she’s not the only high-ranking mathematician on the team. And the problem they’re asked to solve is both highly complex and shrouded in layers of secrecy. This is enough to put anyone somewhat on edge, but when the answer comes, it could change their world. And indeed, it certainly changes Connie’s. Before long, she’s forced on a cross-country escapade, striving to right one wrong, and stop another.

The cast are colourful and fun: Arnold, a fairly stereotypical American geek and a staunch and determined friend; Ranjit, sweet and naive, liable to crumble into emotion; no-nonsense, straight-taling Evelyn; Se, serious and pragmatic and Luke, weird even by mathematician standards, who seems oddly ignorant of some things, but awfully knowing of others.

All are thrown together, painted in vivid colours and are brought to life throughout the pages. This is romance literature for science geeks, a delightful blend of humour and action, romance and loyalty.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Resistance is Futile 
by Jenny Colgan
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356505381

Book Review: The Oversight, by Charlie Fletcher

cv_the_oversight

This book is available from bookstores nationwide.

I have read many novels based on the concept of magic in London town, and it is a sub-genre I usually enjoy. So I was looking forward to being convinced all over again that magic may well exist, and where better to believe magic could exist than in London.

This book didn’t deliver this for me. I found the concept of The Oversight, which as well as being the title, is the group of people that look after the magic of London and keep the bad magic-users in check, to be too lightly drawn. It was not until Lucy went through the mirror that I began to engage with a character in more than an observatory way.

The use of magic in London is waning, but in this book it is essential that there remains a final hand – 5 people – that use magic, to help to keep the ‘Discriminator’ and the ‘Wildfire’ in control. If one of the fingers is destroyed, London will fall due to the power of these sigils. How they are controlled is not fully explained – only that the last time they weren’t controlled, the Great Fire of London occurred.

I believe that this is the first book in a trilogy, and if this is the case, I hope that the second book does a better job of drawing people into a world that seems like it might be worth getting to know. Lucy Fletcher, the character that takes an unexpected journey, is a promising voice in the novel, and somebody I would like to hear more from. After falling through a magic object, Lucy finds herself in a carnival setting, with an excellent set of characters, both good and bad. She needs to figure out who to trust, and fast – to survive. The other characters were intriguing for the most part, but I found them hard to care for, as I didn’t know enough background.

From reading the biography in the back, Charlie Fletcher has previously written the Stoneheart trilogy, and his standalone book Far Rockaway, was in the longlist for the Carnegie Medal this year. I am intrigued enough to try out something else of his.

If you are intrigued by the idea of magic in London, old or new, I suggest reading some Ben Aaronovich for a bit of light escapism (modern London with an ‘extraordinary’ police department), some China Mieville for a bit of brilliant magical horror (Un Lun Dun or Perdido Street Station), or of course Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens. Or anything at all by Terry Pratchett in the Discworld series – Ankh-Morepork is eerily similar to London, most would agree.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Oversight
by Charlie Fletcher
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356502908