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: The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Frforde, draws on a mix of genres, such as humour thriller, sci-fi, detective and fantasy. It tells the story of Thursday Next, a literary detective in an alternative 1985, where everyone is obsessed with literature. The real world and the “book world” overlap, quite literally bringing citizens’ favourite book characters to life, which is all fun and games… until Jane Eyre is kidnapped.

My favourite aspect of The Eyre Affair was its witty references to “pop” literature, such as the Dickens’ books – this reminded me of Dickensian, the BBC drama set within the fictional world of Dickens – or the Shakespeare/Marlowe conspiracy theory. At times, these references seemed a little heavy-handed, but I think this excess paid off, adding to the charm of the alternative reality.

I also appreciated how Thursday’s own narrative, in some ways, mirrored the narrative of Jane Eyre. This was a clever and well-executed idea, and I enjoyed the allusion to how Thursday’s intervention and “reconstruction” of Jane Eyre resulted in the Bronte story we know and love today.

Yet despite its title, The Eyre Affair took longer than expected to focus on its main plot, the Jane Eyre kidnapping.

A lot of time was spent building the world with at times clunky or (dare I say it) cheesy sci-fi abstract descriptions, and introducing characters who, to me, held no significant role in the narrative. Although world-building is a significant part of any series, I prefer books where this description and scene-setting is done more subtly, rather than a heavy exposition.

However, the time spent in The Eyre Affair background and character descriptions may reduce the level of exposition needed further down the line, and these characters may well be more significant in future books in the Thursday Next series, so I can’t complain too much.

Overall, despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed The Eyre Affair. Although he “relies” on existing texts and authors (to an extent) to construct his own story, he blends his own ideas and style with existing characters and texts well, and it was a fun, light-hearted read.

I’d love to read the rest of the Thursday Next series, as well as more books by Jasper Fforde, an author previously unknown to me.

– Judith

Book Review: The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge is dubbed a ‘tragedy’ novel. It is about Michael Henchard, a hay-trusser who sells his wife Susan and their daughter Elizabeth-Jane to a sailor on a drunken whim. Years later, Susan arrives in Casterbridge and, to her surprise, finds Henchard is the Mayor and is a reformed man. The pair reunite, but both Henchard and Susan are keeping secrets from one another, and the past refuses to stay buried.

In true Thomas Hardy style, multiple taboos are introduced quickly in The Mayor of Casterbridge, such as the maltreatment of women, drunkenness, fights, fake identities, and death.

The number of problems each character faced, and how these problems impacted upon the other characters made the book feel very much like an 19th century predecessor to The Jeremy Kyle Show!

I thought The Mayor of Casterbridge was okay, despite having a dislike for most of the characters; each character was selfish and deceptive in varying amounts, so it was hard to feel sympathetic for any of them.

The Mayor of Casterbridge has particularly witty moments, and I liked the Harry Potter-like language in this passage:

‘she [Elizabeth-Jane] no longer spoke of “dumbledores” but of “humble bees” […] that when she had not slept she did not quaintly tell the servants next morning that she had been “hag-rid,” but that she had “suffered from indigestion.”’

(Chapter 20)

I think it’s still unclear as to whether this passage inspired J.K. Rowling, when it came to writing her best-selling children’s fantasy series. In an interview with Stephanie Loer for The Boston Globe, Rowling said:

“Some of the names are invented… Dumbledore […] is an Old English word meaning bumblebee. Hagrid, who by the way is one of my favourite characters, also comes from an Old English word – hagridden – meaning having a nightmarish night.”

Regardless, I liked The Mayor of Casterbridge (not as much as Jude The Obscure however) – not because of its maybe links to the Harry Potter books, but because of Hardy’s ability to simply tell a good story.

– Judith