**** 4 out of 5 stars
Review by: Mark Palm
While not a typical academic work I would argue that Danse Macabre is an exceptional book about horror fiction, especially Stephen King’s concept of the three “tarot” cards of horror, which are central to many tales in the genre; the Werewolf, the Vampire, and the “Thing Without a Name.” I cannot go into these concepts with any depth here, but you can if you read the book, and I suggest that you do.
The one “tarot” card he barely touches is that of the Ghost. Mr. King states that the Ghost is an Archetype, and a concept too vast to discuss in a limited space. Fellside, by M.R. Carey is not really a horror novel, although there are plenty of scares to be found; but it is a Ghost Story, if any novel ever was.
Jess Moulson wakes up in a hospital bed, badly burned, with no memory of how she got there. In time she recalls that she is a heroin addict, and that her flat burned down, and she has been charged with murder, since the police claim that she deliberately set the fire, and it took the life of a little boy named Alex who lived one story above. Wracked with guilt, Jess sleepwalks through her trial, and is easily convicted and sentenced to Fellside, a maximum security prison on the Yorkshire Moors.
When she was a child Jess had an unusually vivid imaginary friend, and claimed that she could walk into other people’s dreams. Now, in prison, without hope, she decides to starve to death. As she grows weaker and weaker she begins to be visited by a ghost, who she slowly comes to believe is Alex, the boy upstairs. Eventually she becomes convinced that she did not kill Alex, and that someone else did, and determined to discover who, she stops her slow suicide and begins to investigate Alex’s death and her own case, using her legal team. While this is happening Jess is finally released into the prison’s general population, and must deal with her reputation as a child-killer, which places her at the bottom rung of the convict population.
At this point we are only about a third of the way into the novel, and Mr Carey is just getting warmed up. Fellside is one of those books were the reader’s knowledge grows alongside that of the main character, so to divulge much more would be unfair to the reader, but just let me say that Fellside is a startling hybrid that manages to incorporate aspects of several different genres without giving short shrift to any of them. Jess is essentially stuck in a dark and violent prison while trying to slowly piece together an arson investigation and feel her way through a supernatural/psychological mystery. While it would seem like handful Mr. Carey pulls it off, and one reason is the supporting cast. Each person caught up in the story, from the prisoners, to the prison guards and staff, to Jess’s legal team is a living breathing character, subject to change, and all varying shades of grey.
Fellside is Jess's book however, and even that is a surprise that is deftly handed by Mr. Carey. At first Jess is as insubstantial as a ghost, but as the story progresses Jess comes more and more to life, until her courage and bravery and principals in the face of all but overwhelming odds makes her a true heroine. Every time I thought I knew where the plot was going Mr. Carey steered to somewhere else, and it was often because of new depths that were found in Jess. Read Fellside, but be prepared to be haunted.
****Four out of Five Stars.
Review by: Mark Palm.
One of the things that made Alive by Scott Sigler such a joy to read was the very same thing that made it tough to review. It was basically a story of unending discovery. Em Savage, and many other young adults awaken in strange mechanical coffins with almost no memories of who they are, where they are and what they are supposed to do. That Mr Sigler made the process of discovery such an important aspect of the story, with characters learning their skills and roles as they rediscovered their memories gave the book a sense of wonder and discovery that is the basis for the best science fiction.
Now with the release Alight I can reveal a bit more about the first novel to get you ready for the tales that unfold in this exceptional sequel.
We now know that Em and the Birthday Children were on a starship headed to a world,Omeyocan, that was chosen by the Grownups, who built the ship, and had sinister plans for our protagonists. We still, however, have only a vague idea about what caused so much death and devastation on the ship, and know even less about the planet towards which our characters are hurtling on their stolen shuttle.
Having said that I am afraid that I am not going to be able to divulge much more of the plot of Alight, because like Alive, the reader learns what they need to learn when are characters do, and not a moment sooner.
The narrative strategy may be the same this time out, and the characters face a set of similar dilemmas, which are after all, the basic rules of survival, but the basis of their challenge could not be more different. Alive was a grueling exercise in claustrophobic tension, but Alight is a grueling exercise in agoraphobic tension. If you thought that there were problems in dealing with an unexplored spaceship imagine having to come to grips with an entire unexplored world, about which you know nothing. Even more disturbing, it appears that the city our characters discover seems ravaged by war and ruin, and some of the buildings are plastered with violent images of sacrificial murder, that along with the architecture, strongly suggest some of the worst aspects of Mayan and Incan culture. There are also strong signs that another intelligent race may be out in the huge, endless jungle that seems to make up most of the planet, and they don’t seem ready to share.
The paradox of discovery is also a strong element in this novel. The more that they learn the better their chance for survival, but as their skills and memories emerge the differences in their class and roles threatens to drive new wedges in the alliances that have brought them so far. All of the main character from Alive are here; Spingate,O’Malley, Bishop, Aramovsky,Gaston, and of course, Em. Mr. Sigler gives them depth and realism,( particularly Spingate, and O’Malley), even while emphasizing that the roles they were destined to play in society are changing them. Em, in particular receive a surprising revelation about her role, but it never stops her from being not just the lead in Alight, but the heart and soul of the story. Without spoilers, heart and soul is integral to Alight, as it morphs from being a tale of survival, to a tale of doing what is right regardless of the circumstances. All of that is tucked inside of a well-constructed, twisting plot that absolutely explodes with action and danger.
To top it off I said in my last review that Em should become the latest in a row of ass-kicking YA icons, and I believe that even more now. She is smart, tough funny, but also kind, compassionate and willing to sacrifice herself for her friends. The only two tiny flaws that made this a four-star for me are the cliff-hanger ending, and the fact that I think that Alight is a bit difficult to read as a stand-alone. Aside from that grab this book, then get ready for the last installment. I can’t wait to see what Mr. Sigler has up his sleeves next time that I can’t tell you about.