Review by David. A Lascelles
My first thoughts on reading this book were ‘this needs to be a graphic novel’. Manley’s tale of bizarre faerie kingdoms in modern urban settings definitely gives of the same vibe as many of the tales told by DC’s Vertigo imprint and if Neil Gaiman’s work for Vertigo, especially his most famous work for Sandman, is not an influence here I would be very much surprised. There are also parallels to Gaiman’s first novel, Neverwhere, in that the tale centres on a human who inadvertently ends up embroiled in the intrigues of a rag tag court of ne’er do well, pseudo-medieval knights and nobles living among the detritus of a modern city.
Jo MacGuire is a grungy call centre monkey who spends her days conducting surveys about banking services over the phone. In the course of a night out to celebrate the promotion of one of her colleagues, she unwittingly challenges a member of a secretive and underground court to a duel and ends up bodyguard to Ysabel, known by the sobriquet The Bride, who is the daughter of the Queen. Events progress from there with Jo being given an easy out but declining to take it out of some sense of honour and learning of the difficulties inherent in being responsible for the life of a Princess – not least of which being that the job does not hold a salary.
One reason why I think Graphic novel when reading this is the writing style. Manley has a very visual style with a lot of florid description and a very strong sense of what the world the characters inhabit looks like. The dull urban environment perfectly offsets the often colourful antics of the characters. Where the style fails, however, is in tense and overview. The prose is Omniscient Point of View in present tense and this contains a number of problems not least of which is that it fails to let the reader really connect with any of the characters. Things just happen and characters respond to them but we never see any emotions nor sense of empathy nor urgency for any of the participants. Present tense is also a very difficult tense to write in and even harder to read and that can alienate readers. I sense that this is a deliberate choice of style in order to invoke a particular feel to the writing but I feel that it is misjudged. Some places in the text it works rather well but in many it feels clumsy and disjointed, especially when the action skips mid scene to another character. I feel that this makes the story more suited to a graphic medium where such things are irrelevant and the reader can enjoy the story and the sometimes excellent characters and dialogue.
I also have some issue with the chapter headings. Again, I can see the intent which is to mimic some of the old fashioned means of heading a chapter as mimicked by Gaiman in some of his work. This idea of providing a short précis of the chapter in a few sentences can work well but here more often fails because it largely seems to involve copying the first few sentences of the chapter. Rather than giving the reader a cryptic impression of what is to come, this actually has the effect of making it look like an error in the ebook file which results in duplication of some of the text in bold at the start of each chapter.
Style problems aside, I did enjoy this story. Jo MacGuire is a believable female version of the ‘everyman’ with a bit of added dreadlocky style. The world is well realised and the other characters interesting. There are a couple of places where important information seems to be missed – assumed to be already known to the reader – and some places where there is maybe a little too much detail, much of it irrelevant to the story but much of that can be forgiven in light of the imagination behind this work.