Book Review: Enemies Rising

Enemies Rising is the first story in a series by Paul Stretton-Stephens.

The story is about Tacrem, a “Downsider” – an underwater creature who has the ability to run, swim and jump incredibly quickly. He lives in an underwater settlement called Cetardia, below the “Upsiders” – that is, humans. According to Amazon, ‘Tacrem undertakes a rare and daring mission’ to confront the threat of “Upsiders” who wish to discover and exploit Cetardia for personal gain.

The genre of Enemies Rising is a mix between young adult, fantasy, science fiction, and action, with a message about the environment added in too.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a young adult story without a destiny to fulfil, and so the reader is plunged into the action straightaway, following Tacrem, a teenage “Downsider” with a mysterious purpose.

Initially, the opening to the story made me hopeful for an unusual fantasy read – unlike anything I’d ever read before, but sadly, I was left disappointed. Whilst the opening was action-packed, it was slightly overpacked, making events feel convoluted and confusing; I wasn’t always sure what was happening.

The population of ‘Cetardia’ all have bizarre names – for the mere sake of it, it would seem – and bizarre species, with the city itself lacking in vivid description. I couldn’t help but imagine it as Otoh Gunga, an alien underwater city from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (and given how great that film was, it wasn’t exactly the best comparison to draw).

My Photo [Enemies Rising 1].png

Furthermore, these species, places and names were not explained. This was incredibly difficult to visualise anybody, or remember who they were, or their characteristics – a fundamental issue in science fiction or fantasy, where alien life is so often pivotal to the narrative; it is important the reader knows and understands what these new creatures are.

Having said that, the best parts of the story were when Tacrem’s narrative was blended with the narrative of two “Upsiders” – climatologist Professor Jack Berry and his daughter Jess. This grounded the story in a level of reality, so I could follow more easily what was going on.

Whilst the story lacked in places, as I’ve described, I actually liked the premise Stretton-Stephens had planned: A fictional underwater settlement faces challenges because of the impact of humans, a challenge used to reflect a message to the reader about the environment and protection of ocean life. This is exemplified by Professor Berry’s role in the story as a climatologist. However, the execution of this premise fell short, I thought, due to the lack of written style, flair, and proficiency.

A lot of the sentences felt “clunky” – they didn’t feel dynamic or natural, and Stretton-Stephens regularly transitions between reported action, reported speech, direct speech, indirect speech, and indirect thought, and these transitions were somewhat overwhelming. Although some readers may be able to overlook an interesting story told with poor writing, that is something I just cannot do.

In addition, Tacrem’s ability to ‘Mingle’ with a person – that is, to enter their mind telepathically to gain key information – was always described with oddly sexual language such as:

  • ‘In their short time together, Tacrem felt a rush of intense hear enter his body and a simultaneous tingling feeling that engulfed him from head to toe.’
  • ‘Sometimes they would thrust through him individually, and other times in pairs. Only at the end, after what seemed an age to Tacrem, did the three enter him together.’

This language jarred with the tone of the rest of the story, and I have no idea whether Stretton-Stephens intended this description to have these connotations, or simply didn’t realise.

The ending was also rather abrupt, which clashed with the apparent set-up of a “cliffhanger”, and I think where Stretton-Stephens chose to end the narrative was an overall odd decision.

To conclude, Enemies Rising missed the mark in a lot of places.

Whilst to some this review may seem overly critical, I want to emphasise that I critique books, not to grind the writer down – I appreciate how much hard work must have gone into writing this story – but to explain in detail what I liked and what I didn’t in the hopes they can use that feedback to improve upon their work.

The genre and narrative concept behind Enemies Rising were okay, but the writing style disappointed me greatly, and unfortunately, I will not be reading the sequel, Enemies Rising Part 2.

– Judith


Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express

At midnight, the famous Orient Express train is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, one of the passengers is dead – stabbed a dozen times. Isolated by a storm and with a killer onboard, detective Hercule Poirot must find the culprit.

The newest film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 murder mystery novel was released in UK cinemas in 3rd November 2017, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot.

My Photo [Murder on the Orient Express]

I read Murder on the Orient Express for the first time around this time last year, and although I wrote notes, I never published a book review. However, after seeing the film adaptation last week, I thought it an appropriate time to revisit my notes and finally write a book review.

I really, really liked this book.

I haven’t read much by Agatha Christie, but I found her writing style surprisingly easy to read, which was a great way into the story.

Murder on the Orient Express is the first Poirot story I’ve ever read, though it’s the tenth published by Christie.

He is quirky and clever, drawing on stereotypes introduced by characters like Sherlock Holmes, such as the extraordinarily talented and secluded intellectual. Poirot, however, whilst he prefers solidarity, integrates with society in a polite and courteous manner and, to the best of my knowledge, does not struggle with an opium addiction. For these reasons, I enjoyed Poirot’s character more than Sherlock, and I liked reading Poirot work his way to conclusions.

I liked the mix of lots of characters, all trapped in one singular place, who all had different stories and personalities, and yet Poirot was able to find various connections between them in interesting and subtle ways.

Film Comment: I think this subtlety was lost somewhat when translated to the big screen, in the process of condensing the narrative into a just under 2-hour film.

My Photo [Murder on the Orient Express 2]

I thought the book was satirical, particularly in the interactions between Hercule Poirot, and his friend M. Bouc. This satire was carried across to the film, albeit in different ways.

In the book, Bouc is aware of the stereotypical methods of looking for clues, and subsequently thinks almost every object on the train is a clue. Undoubtedly, this is the approach the “untrained” mind – the mind of the reader – would take; Poirot satirises this with quips directed at Bouc, and instead leads the reader’s attention to the tiniest and seemingly most insignificant details, which are the most telling.

The final reveal of the culprit surprised me, challenging my own theories I’d created in my head and making me think in different ways.

Minor Spoiler: There was a reluctance to condemn the act of murder, because of the reason it was committed. I think murder is murder, and if we begin to justify some murder over others, regardless of intentions or motivations, it creates a risky, slippery slope of vigilante justice. Admittedly though, this frustration was admittedly drawn out more by the film adaptation.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I really liked the newest film adaptation as well; Branagh captured the character of Poirot well, and the cinematography was visually stunning. I recommend both!

News of a second Poirot film with Kenneth Branagh, an adaptation of Death on the Nile, is already spreading. If this is the case, I can’t wait to read Death on the Nile next.

– Judith

Book Review: Find Her

‘”This is all of Flora, finally waking up.”‘

Find Her is a thriller by Lisa Gardner, and the eighth novel in her Detective D.D. Warren series.

Seven years ago, Flora Dane was kidnapped whilst on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure. Now, other women have gone missing and when Flora herself disappears, D.D. realises a far more sinister predator is out there, and it is up to D.D. to Find Her.

I read Find Her after a recommendation, so I had no idea that this was part of a series. Fortunately, for the most part, this didn’t affect my reading experience and I think Find Her works well as a standalone thriller. My one comment is that there was limited characterisation of D.D, but, in all honesty, this didn’t bother me. This is the eighth book featuring D.D. and so Gardner probably imagined her readers knew plenty about her already. Furthermore, I preferred reading about the character of Flora; she is a fascinating woman shaped and changed by severe trauma and dramatic experiences.

The narrative switches between different perspectives of Flora – “past” Flora is narrated in flashbacks and “present” Flora is narrated in real-time – as well as between the perspective of D.D. This was a great technique, although it initially took me a while to adjust to, and I began the novel a little confused at what was going on.

The switching perspectives of Flora linked her past experience to her present experience, exemplified by using similar language in each narrative, creating enjoyable and significant parallelism, rather than monotonous repetition.

At times though, the writing felt a little stereotyped, because although it was language one would expect in a crime thriller or murder mystery, it didn’t feel natural. However, for the most part, I was completely engrossed by the writing and the story and I read Find Her in just a few days.

I really enjoyed the drama throughout the book, and the ending was very powerful. Despite the victims of Find Her being female, it didn’t feel like a clichéd “damsel in distress” narrative, which I thought was great, and instead the narrative was raw and emotional and held the right pace.

I strongly recommend Find Her; I enjoyed it so much, I may even read it again!

– Judith