Tony’s Review…Breathe, Sarah Crossan


Sometime after the world has starved itself of oxygen and humanity has retreated to sealed domes, our three main characters find themselves bound together in an adventure. Alina, resistance fighter, who knows the pods are an excuse for the elite to hold on to power; Quinn, the son of one of those elite; and Bea, the daughter of one of the working classes, lovelorn for Quinn who never notices her (at first, anyway).

It’s a wonderful premise of a book, the world suffocating without oxygen, and the world building and descriptions of the wastelands outside the pod are great. It’s the characters that let the book down a little. We shift from one perspective to another every chapter, first person every time, and perhaps that’s the problem. I would have liked to have stayed in Quinn’s head for longer to get to know him better, for instance. The characters voices are quite similar as well, such that I had to check the chapter headings to see who was speaking and thinking a few times.

I would have enjoyed the book more if it had been about the end of the world, the time called “The Switch”. Watching humanity fall apart into ruin was what pulled me into the book and the little flashbacks are what kept me interested. It would have been grim reading, I’m sure, but there are glimpses of the lost world that I felt needed exploring more. A character talks of when she was a death nurse, killing people who asked rather than let themselves slowly suffocate. Tell me what that was like rather than focus on the long-after. Write a prequel, maybe.

Unusually, the love triangle is between two girls and one boy, rather than the other way round. I liked that. I liked there was a character who was gay and it was the least interesting thing about him. It’s mentioned once and not again. He isn’t defined by it as though it were his only attribute.

There are inevitable loose ends – this is book one of at least two – and it felt like there was a slow build that will continue into the next book, and I never felt cheated out of the unanswered questions.

Will I read book two in autumn 2013? I think I will, just to see where it all goes and how it all ends.

Tony’s Review: The Sacrifice, Charlie Higson


Everyone over the age of 14 has been consumed by a virus that essentially turns them into zombies. Only the children are immune…for now, maybe.

This is number four in what Charlie Higson is now planning to make a seven book epic, and there’s a sense of things being set up for the later books, especially in the later chapters. There’s a change in the behaviour of the adults, for good and bad – the good guys get an ally, and the bad guys get a leader.

This is a book without fault. There isn’t a single wasted character or event, no matter how minor, and all the strands of plot tie up at the end and then leave room for more books (apart from DogNut, who I’m sure will appear in Book Five or somewhere down the line…).

What’s getting hard after four books and a gap of a few years between them, is to get the timeline sorted out. Events in this book overlap events in the other three, and it’s hard to remember who all the characters are in the previous books and their ‘status’ in this one. But that’s a minor niggle.

Higson goes to lengths to point out that the monsters inside – the children who decide to lead the children – are as dangerous as those outside. There are shades of Lord of The Flies in Ed and Little Sam and the situations they find themselves in, and I think the comparison is a worthy one.

This is not a book for the squeamish. A nine year old boy gets flogged, anyone can die (and they do), and the fights against the adults are long, bloody and vicious. It doesn’t go into extravagant details, but it doesn’t shy away from them either. Be warned: This is the book Stephen King would write if he wrote YA.

The real star of the show are Little Sam and the delightfully batty (or is he?) The Kid, who talks like Alex from A Clockwork Orange but is sharp as a sat-on-box-of-pins. Sam’s grim determination to find his sister and then The Kid is one of the underlying themes of the book – and there are so many: dictatorships, loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, not judging people by their appearances, rebuilding society. Everything is packed in there, but nothing feels rushed or thrown in. This is a book carefully constructed to make you think and reconsider, and I’m already hungry for the next three sequels.

Just Finished…The Moon Dwellers, David Estes (Spoilers)


At some point in the future, humanity is wiped out from the surface of the globe and forced underground. Society splits into three factions, the elite Sun realm, the working drones of the Moon Dwellers and the underclass of the Star realm.

Adele Rose is in prison for no reason other than her parents were branded as ‘traitors to society’. Her family torn away from her, she waits to rot in prison. Tristan Nailin, son of the Sun Realm president, is a prisoner too…a prisoner of his fathers empire and expectations.

When he drives by the prison where Adele is a ‘guest’, they find themselves powerfully physically and psychically affected by their encounter, even though they don’t meet.

That night, both Adele and Tristan break out of their lives and go on the run. Adele to find her sister and parents, and Tristan to find what spell Adele has cast over him.

David Estes has written a technically flawless book. The characters are all fleshed out, the dialogue sharp and witty, the chapters all end on cliffhangers that keep you glued to the page. The plot bounces along and doesn’t lag. The world he creates is consistent and logical. I did spot a few errors with a few things…being electrocuted on barbed wire fence would make you clutch it tighter, not throw you off, and would humanity a thousand years underground know what cardboard was? But those are minor points.

So why don’t I want to give it five stars?

For me, the characters didn’t gel. I never connected with them in any meaningful way until close to the end. I had a feeling that I’d seen them all before a dozen times: Feisty yet vulnerable female heroine. Handsome yet insecure male hero. Minor characters for some comic relief and tension, one of who dies.

When Cole is killed near the end of the story, I should have been moved. I should have felt chills when soldiers footsteps echo from the next stone corridor. I think what was missing for me was atmosphere. I should have smelt the damp air of the caves and the chill breeze as it moved around me. I didn’t get a feeling past a physical description of how different the sun realm was from the moon dwellers, for instance. It took me twenty or thirty percent of the book to realise the light was lower in the moon caves.

I also felt that towards the middle of the book, Estes suddenly realises he has a sequel in mind. Thus, characters suddenly start talking about ‘The Secret’, and there is no explanation for Adele and Tristan’s odd psychic bond.

Adele’s father talks only in elliptical sentences for the few pages he’s in the book, then is quickly pushed out again, taking Adele’s sister with him. Two plot points tied up in one swoop. The same with the super killer Rivet, who is quickly dispatched…so much for being a super killer.

Ultimately though, despite the excellent writing, pacing and characters, everything about the book felt like I had seen it before, and towards the end it started to feel like a setup for the sequel.