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The Race by Nina Allan
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it was amazing

Originally published at Risingshadow.

The Race is Nina Allan's debut novel. It's a rewarding, thought-provoking and beautifully written novel about four damaged people, brothers and sisters, everyday life, ecological collapse, smart dog racing and two different realities that merge and twist in a compelling way.

Because Nina Allan has written beautiful short stories and novellas, I was eager to read her debut novel. In my opinion she has succeeded perfectly in writing a beautiful and immersive novel that is just as beautiful, nuanced and strange as her stories. All the things that have made her stories excellent can be found in this novel. I was very impressed by this novel, because the story was intriguing and the characters were three-dimensional.

Beauty, terror, loss, longing and love go hand in hand in this novel. The tender and beautiful moments are nicely balanced by the bleak, brutal and terrifying moments that almost tear apart the characters' lives. I admire the author's way of writing about these moments in a realistic way, and I especially admire the avoidance of easy solutions. The author shows that life isn't always neat and pretty, because there are times when you have to face difficult situations and what matters is the way you handle the situations and how you accept and deal with the changes in your life.

Although there are bleak and brutal moments in this novel, the author never dwells too much on them and doesn't let the story become over-sentimental. The author is such a gifted storyteller that she knows how to write expertly about bleak and sentimental issues. She's also capable of lightening the atmosphere without resorting to cheap tricks and the characters may suddenly experience hope, just like in real life.

What I like perhaps most about this novel is that Nina Allan has created a story that reveals its readers the whole spectrum of human life and emotions. The author doesn't shy away difficult issues, but writes boldly about them. She also writes boldly about the consequences of shocking events, because they affect the characters' lives. By writing about the characters' feelings and emotions she is able to create a realistic atmosphere.

This novel can be categorized as science fiction and literary speculative fiction. I personally categorize it as literary speculative fiction, because in my opinion the author flawlessly combines literary fiction and speculative fiction.

Here's information about the story:

The Race opens in a coastal town of Sapphire where illegal smartdog racing is popular. Fracking has affected and changed the landscape - a failed fracking industry has reduced large areas of the natural environment to a toxic wasteland and has affected the lives of the local residents.

There are four main characters in this novel: Jenna, Christy, Alex and Maree. The tales of these characters are connected to each other and together they create a stunning vision of people's lives, fears and hopes in a contemporary and futuristic England.

Here's a bit of information about the main characters and their lives:


- Jenna Hoolman lives in Sapphire. Jenna's mother left when she was fifteen. She has a brother, Del.
- Jenna makes high-end gloves for the runners who are the stars of the smartdog races.
- Jenna's brother, Del, is interested in smartdogs. He has a friend, Em, who also becomes Jenna's friend. Del often hangs out with Em's father, Graeme, because Graeme is involved in the smartdog races.
- Del has a wife, Claudia, and a daughter, Lumey, who is special and loves dogs. When Lumey suddenly goes missing, things change quickly for Jenna, Del and Claudia.


- Christy has an older brother called Derek. Their mother left when Christy was fifteen. Christy is a writer.
- Something wrong happens between Christy and Derek, and that affects their relationship.
- Derek begins to date a woman called Linda and they have a slightly unusual relationship. Christy gets caught up in the middle of their relationship.
- When things get bad between Derek and Linda, Christy is worried about Linda.


- Alex's father is a Londoner and his mother is from Lagos. He has encountered racism.
- Alex has dated Linda and misses her. He was Linda's boyfriend before Derek.
- Alex has a wife, Janet, and a daughter, Leonie.
- Christy contacts Alex and wants to talk with him about Linda, because she thinks that something bad may have happened to her.


- Maree travels aboard a ship towards Kontessa. She's part of a special programme and the main facility of the programme is in Kontessa. She was recruited in the programme because of her ability to communicate with smartdogs.
- Maree remembers bits and pieces of her childhood, but not much anything else. She's only been told a few things about how her parents died when she was young.
- Maree discovers new things during the voyage towards Kontessa and meets new people.

These four damaged characters, whose lives are linked, are genuinely interesting, because they're like real people and act like ones. They all have their own feelings, lives and secrets, and each of them reviews their past in an enchanting way. Reading about their past was interesting for me, because it brought depth to the characters.

The characterization and character interaction is excellent and fluent. Nina Allan writes confidently and deftly about what happens between family members and friends. As everybody knows, relationships between siblings can be difficult in many ways. The author writes perfectly about these relationships, because the relationship between Jenna and Del is handled well, and so is the difficult relationship between Christy and Derek.

Nina Allan writes beautifully and memorably about childhood, family life and childhood memories. For example, reading about Christy's childhood and how her mother leaves her is something that's difficult to forget after reading about it because of the absorbing writing style. I'm sure that nobody can forget the image of a young Christy who watches how her mother leaves the house never to come back again.

What happens between Christy and Derek will also linger on the reader's mind, because Derek does something bad and unexpected to her. What happens between them has a big effect on Christy's life, because it scars her for a long time. After the incident Christy begins to distance herself from her brother and eventually she communicates only briefly with Derek. In my opinion this adds plenty of harsh realism to the story.

The smartdogs play an important role in this novel. They're greyhounds that have been spliced with human DNA. They're product of illegal experiments in stem cell research. The smartdogs are often dognapped, because they're worth lots of money, and something bad may also happen to them.

All the smartdogs have runners. The runners are the stars of the smartdog races. Each runner has an implant that allows him/her to feel the dog's thoughts. The symbiosis between the dog and its runner is strong. The runners who have implants act normally, but they develop a deep understanding of the dog and may even defend the dog with their lives and vice versa.

The excitement of the smartdog racing and all things connected to it are brought to life in vivid details. Smartdog racing is illegal, but it's very popular in Sapphire and a lot of money is involved in the races. In my opinion the author has succeeded amazingly well in creating a totally believable vision of the smartdog racing and shows how much money is involved in it.

It was interesting to read about glass, because it was a new kind of drug and was connected to smartdog racing, because it enables brains to be more sensitive to the chip's software processes. Using glass can be dangerous, because it will erode brain function.

Nina Allan writes believably and realistically about such delicate issues as sex, sexuality, first loves, infatuation, relationships and racism. Nina Allan also writes confidently about the characters' lives. The characters in this novel go through different phases in their lives and their past experiences affect their lives and decisions in a realistic way. It's possible to say that the past defines the characters (and affects their actions and decisions), but doesn't cripple them.

The observations about the characters, their appearances and their traits are nuanced and evocative. For example, what the author writes about the owner of the flower shop, Diane, is evocative. With a few words she manages to evoke a totally believable image of this woman.

This novel contains many beautiful descriptions of different places and how they have changed over the years. The author writes splendidly about how landscapes have changed and how certain areas have become polluted. Her descriptions of Sapphire, Hastings and their surroundings are detailed and beautiful.

There are references in this novel to a new kind of human beings - a new "race of empaths" - who have telepathic skills that can be used in many ways. I enjoyed reading about these human beings and their skills, because they differed from normal people.

There are also referecenes to speculative fiction authors and other authors in this novel. Many of their names are most likely familiar to readers who have read plenty of novels and are familiar with speculative fiction and literary fiction.

When I read this novel, I was slightly reminded of the stories written by Douglas Thompson and Christopher Barzak. Nina Allan has something similar in her writing style as they do, but she writes original and beautiful prose. If you've read Nina Allan's short story collections and novellas, you may have noticed that she has her own unique writing style and literary voice that sets her apart from other speculative fiction authors. When you read this novel, you'll notice that she has honed her literary voice and has created a story that fully showcases her writing skills.

I took the opportunity to read The Race twice before writing this review, because I wanted to read the story again as soon as possible. I enjoyed it very much during the first time, but I found myself liking it even more when I read it again, because I'd had time to think about the happenings and all the intricate details. The story is so good and full of details and descriptions of human life that re-reading it will allow the readers to fully understand the beauty of it.

Before I forget, I have to mention that the cover image by Ben Baldwin looks beautiful. It's a perfect cover image for this novel.

In my honest opinion The Race is one of the best speculative fiction novels of the year, because there's lots of depth in it and real human emotions and human destinies can be found on its pages. Because it's difficult to find this kind of debut novels that have depth, style and inventiveness in them, I honestly think that The Race is the best debut speculative fiction novel of the year. There are no flaws in this novel, because all the things and elements are beautifully connected to each other, and the story flows effortlessly from the first page to the last page.

The Race is a beautifully written, complex and absorbing debut novel that deserves to be read and praised. It's an exceptionally compelling and original speculative fiction novel that will resonate among readers who enjoy reading literary speculative fiction and quality novels. If you've read Nina Allan's short stories and enjoyed reading them, you must read this novel, because you'll love it. If you've never read Nina Allan's stories, you should read them (this novel is a good place to start reading her stories).

I highly recommend The Race to all readers who are interested in speculative fiction and quality stories. This novel is speculative fiction at its utmost best, so make sure that you read it as soon as possible.

Highly recommended!
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 3, 2014 – Shelved

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