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).
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.