What a lovely afternoon read. I really think that Pearson's Hilda series will eventually be held with the same regard the likes of Miyazaki and HergéWhat a lovely afternoon read. I really think that Pearson's Hilda series will eventually be held with the same regard the likes of Miyazaki and Hergé are....more
I had to read The Angel Collector for a class on library services to children and young people, and it's left me torn and with a lot to ponder when itI had to read The Angel Collector for a class on library services to children and young people, and it's left me torn and with a lot to ponder when it comes to collection development for young adult readers.
In a nutshell, The Angel Collector is a murder mystery thriller for 'the yoofs of today' - imagine James Paterson or Silence of the Lambs repackaged for E4. Our troubled hero is Jit, a teen whose friend Sophie goes missing after attending a music (and apparently New Age) festival. Jit's obvious reaction to this is to assemble a crack team of teenagers and travel the country investigating cults and serial killers because of course. The adults in the story are generally okay with this or are otherwise missing.
If my synopsis seems a little harsh in tone, allow me to rein it in a little with some praise. Rai has a good grasp of contemporary teen voices and isn't afraid to do something like, say, glibly refer to someone snorting paracetamol with a credit card like it was cocaine. The subject matter here is unpleasant and draws the characters into very dark circles, so it's refreshing (if a little queasy) to see that the kid gloves are off. Jit also deals with anger management issues and frequently lashes out, and it's good to see teens given a narrator who isn't squeaky clean or without unfocused teen rage. Finally, I was impressed by Rai's rendering of his native Leicester (and it was nice to see the East Midlands!) - dialect and lighthearted regional jibes pop up and add a flourish of colour and humour to an otherwise dark story.
But for each of Rai's strengths there is a weakness. He occasionally falters in his recreation of the teen voice, dating the book terribly with clunky references to iTunes and MP3s when dealing with a generation who I doubt would describe digital formats with such detail (having experienced nothing else) - "I listened to a song" becomes something similar to "I opened iTunes and downloaded an MP3." Worse still, the explicit language, gore and drug references are laden on with a heavy hand and eventually become gratuitous, and while some light peppering of this kind of thing would have suggested a mature and realistic depiction of teens, the glut of severed heads and "fuck"s is cumbersome. We're also treated to a good deal of flat characters, such as Jenna, a stoner who spends a lot of time getting stoned (just as I thought we might explore Jenna's addictive personality she was promptly dumped and replaced by plucky young Anna, who seems to serve no other purpose than to show us that the ladies like Jit). Women in general don't do so well in The Angel Collector - if mothers aren't absent they're abusive, and if they don't like Jit it's probably because they're man-hating pretend lesbians. Speaking of which, there's also a great deal of transphobia, and it's believable given the age of our characters, but this is never properly addressed despite the he/she jokes about one character coming thick and fast.
It's a shame that the book suffers so much from its flaws, because I will admit that it was a true page-turner (and this is coming from someone typically uninterested in the genre). I generally liked Jit and I enjoyed that Rai experimented with the narrative by including emails and instant messenger conversations. But unfortunately so much of the relationship between Jit and Sophie seemed incidental and flimsy (the object of Jit's affection and his motivation for playing detective is, for all intents and purposes, a few text messages and some emoticons), and the grand climax was unsatisfying: predictable, abrupt, and leaving a rather bad aftertaste. It's not all bad though. I'll be checking out some more Bali Rai stuff as it looks as though his strength lies in characterising young Britain, and I'm intrigued by the racial issues his other books seem to deal with. Heaven knows why he's wasting characters like Jit on derivative thrillers: teenagers have enough problems and conflicts without having to add a hokey serial killer into the mix....more
The third of Reeve's Hungry City books jumps forward a decade or so and hands the bulk of the action over to a new main character, but it's business aThe third of Reeve's Hungry City books jumps forward a decade or so and hands the bulk of the action over to a new main character, but it's business as usual and much of the same. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as it's another enjoyable entry to a great series, though I found Tom thoroughly disappointing this time round, his blandness seemingly amplified by age (perhaps that was intentional, but for me it was just unsatisfying).
The real intrigue here comes from the original set of characters and how their past actions continue to haunt them, and it makes for extremely uncomfortable reading at times, particularly with regards to poor Hester, who I'd suggest is really given a disservice in this book if it weren't for the fact that I found her decisions and troubles far more involving and understandable than snoozy old Tom's, whose core dilemma in life continues to be whether or not Hester is ugly and his trying to get a grip and realise that life isn't fair.
As the series goes on, I also think Reeve's themes are becoming more and more transparent - in a good way - with the baby-daddy dramas coming full circle and progenitor/controller/creator figures all over the joint (even the Stalkers spend a great deal of time hemming and hawing over their creators). The poignancy and pathos of every minute detail seems much more immediate at this stage in the series, and it makes for a very satisfying, cutting read that pulls together everything we've seen up until now.
And once again we find out far more about Hester's bodily functions than I'd like to know. It's becoming a very grim motif....more
The second book in Reeve's young adult "municipal Darwinism" series breezed by at a much brisker pace for me than the first, though it didn't quite reThe second book in Reeve's young adult "municipal Darwinism" series breezed by at a much brisker pace for me than the first, though it didn't quite reach the satisfying, frenetic ending that Mortal Engines did. That said, Predator's Gold still manages to be good fun throughout, and it never drags.
The good - Reeve takes to the ice and the water with ease, and I actually found the chilly environs more dramatic and bracing than the more breathtaking climes of Shan Ghuo. The introduction of the Lost Boys is wonderfully meta, with Caul being introduced as a viewer who experiences the story unfolding as we do, shouting at the characters for being so stupid until he's drawn into the story himself. It's the sly winks like that which show Reeve's growing confidence as the series progresses, and the storytelling benefits greatly from it - the filmic narrative, switching between intertwining perspectives, is far more effective this time round and doesn't suffer any of the jerkiness or awkwardness (italic segments, I'm looking at you) that often blighted Mortal Engines until it hit its stride at its climax.
The bad? I found Tom and Hester's relationship a little wearing to begin with, and there's something quite bland and irksome about the way in which good guy Tom has two women falling at his feet, because all the ladies love Tom and he's just lovely (that is, until they are swiftly coupled off with whoever's handy and realise that actually they don't like Tom in that way anymore). Boring! Thankfully this opens up a nice contrast with Hester and her growing comfortableness with her self-professed evil.
And perhaps it's because I read it in a day, but I couldn't help but noticing that when Hester wasn't murdering or betraying someone, she was squatting over a hole, pissing. Are the women of the Hungry City chronicles doomed to either become evil or end up dead and tortured? Are we shortly approaching critical mass on the humiliated women front, perhaps with Freya or Hester in a Princess Leia bikini? I hope not, but frankly I'm not sure I care at the moment: Hester's badassness sort of makes up for it, and it's not very often I'm so captivated by young adult fiction....more