(2013) John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, Headline, £12.99, hrdbk, 408pp, ISBN 978-1- 47-220963-4
This is the start of a new Young Adult (YA) series by John Connolly who is multi-published, and Jennifer Ridyard who is not. I always wonder, when you have multiple authors, whether the style will lurch or the book take on two distinct entities, but you cannot really see the joins here, and what Connolly and Ridyard give us is a solidly plotted story set mainly in a Scotland under alien occupation , where interspecies teen-love breaks out and the aliens turn out to be not quite what they seem.
The basic setup, is that Earth has been conquered by the Illyri, who look a bit like us but are taller and have cats eyes and strange hair. The time period is not specified but it appears to be essentially present day. The Illyri are good cop/bad cop and the good cops (the Military) are in a power struggle with the bad cops (the Corps) and, of course , the Corps are winning.
The Military Governor is based in Edinburgh and is trying to preside over a benign occupation. His daughter, Syd, is the focus of the novel and her status as an Illryi born in Earth and caught between two cultures is the driving force, There’s an active resistance from the human population, and after an explosion on the Royal Mile two teenage resistance fighters, Paul and Steve, are arrested and brought to trial. The Corps steps in and is going to kill the boys, even though they’re innocent. Syd and her friend Ani, help free the human boys only for Syd to get arrested herself, and her father to be stripped of his power, Syd in turn is freed by the resistance who also capture the senior Corps man. The plot, then, is about rescuing Syd and winning control back from the Corps. There are chases all over the Highlands, lots of hiding out in castles, battles, revelations and intrigue. And there is an Artificial Intelligence thrown into the mix s well, just in case there was not enough going on already.
This is a hefty book, running to 408 reasonably tightly packed pages in my version, which is arguably overlong for YA. The first part feels like a slog, too, because there is an awful lot of exposition and that drags the pace even though quite a lot of content is covered in a short space of time. As well as making for a boring read, dumping a big chunk of backstory at the beginning risks a lot of skimming, because the importance of a lot of the material isn’t really apparent, and I always feel I’ve been cheated of that sense of discovery you get when a novel takes you along gradually and leads you to revelations when you’re ready for them. But that seems to be the YA way and this is not the only book for this age groups that takes the ‘show not tell’ rule and chooses to ignore it. That's a pity, because in my opinion this book would have been a lot stronger if they’d dumped the explanations, got on with the story and given us detail when we needed it.
After you have waded through the backstory the action itself is quite engaging and around a third of the way in I found myself hooked and wanting to read on. I liked the characters, though they all need a bit more depth and they do not always react to events in a way which feels credible. The Syd/Paul and Ani/Steve burgeoning relationships seem very attuned to the YA target market but some of the story content is a little violent and nightmare inducing – beheadings, corpses used for experiments, creatures that devour their victims etc – so don’t expect Harry Potter.
Did I enjoy it? In parts. Would I recommend it? With reservations. Does it have series potential? Very definitely, but please can we have tighter, shorter follow-ups? And more of the AI: the AI was cool.
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