I’m not going to lie, I bought this book for the cover. I didn’t read the blurb, I didn’t read the first page, all of the little steps that bridge the gap between a book and my bookshelves flew out the window in the face of that cover. Knife fights! Blood! Duels! Sounds most excellent to me.
When the book arrived I dared to think I had been rewarded for my rash purchase. The back blurb promised a dystopic future Britain where knife fighting had been legalised and where a giant wall had been erected around the city. Sounds very awesome, yes? At the very least it sounds finishable, and yet I barely made it half way through.
Let start with the book’s main conceit: Knife fighting: it’s legal! Why? Pfft, we don’t need to know a silly little thing like that, do we? And honestly, I would have been happy with minimal explanation of why knife fighting (to the death, mind you) was legal, if we actually got to see some, you know, knife fighting. As I said, I made it to the midway point, and not once had anyone actually had a fight involving knives. There was a lot of posturing and ‘why sir, you have offended me! I demand satisfaction!’ going on, but actual knife fighting? Not so much. I’m not saying that nothing happened, but it did feel like Blackthorne (I vaguely recall that this is a well known author's alias, but can't for the life of me remember who...) completely wasted the potential of his world. Here’s this big brotherish dystopic future
London, but not one of the events of the first half of the book couldn’t have taken place in a book set in current day . What’s the point of cool futuristic setting if you don’t make the most of it? Or at least something of it? London
And the giant wall surrounding
? Maybe the back cover was referring to a metaphorical giant wall, because no mention of such was made in the book, or at least no mention that I noticed. Admittedly, I could have missed it. Blackthorne's brand of worldbuilding seems to be offhand sentences like, “oh, yes, Britain has three presidents now” with no explanation or follow up or, worse of all, no real evidence that it effects the characters lives in any way. Or at another point he mentions that because knife fighting is legal hardly anyone owns or uses guns any more. Um, ok? More confusingly is the therapist character (always a sign of memorable characters when they have to be referred to by their profession...), who can possibly read minds or something. Maybe? She does this thing where she talks to her patients and somehow her words just fix whatever is wrong with them, or make them think in a whole new way, like magic. She'll say something like 'you are no longer shy' and bam! no more shyness. But for all intents and purposes Blackthorne has set his book in the “real” world and there are no other hints of supernatural happenings. It’s very strange. America
I can accept magic therapy powers, but what I can’t accept is magic therapy powers that the author wants me to believe aren’t magic. Trying to figure it out kept pulling me out of the book. What also kept yanking me out was trying to get a handle on the moods of the characters. Scenes like this took place pretty much every time any of the character’s spoke:
Josh (or John. Possibly Jake) clenched his fists, a scowl crossing his lips, “um, yeah, ok I guess,” he said.
Do you see? His body language suggests angry alpha male, his words suggest meek submissive dude. The dialogue in this book was consistently like this, completely at odds with the context of the scene. It’s pretty much impossible to lose yourself in a book when your jarred out the story every couple of pages, you know?
Having not finished the book, I can not say if these faults are with it the whole way through. There’s a chance the last half is one long knife fighting blood bath, but even the possibility of that wasn’t enough to let me ignore its flaws and keep forcing myself through it.
Book was: purchased