Monday, 27 June 2011


Generally, my reading matter falls into two categories: my lunchtime book, and my bus/home book.  The former is generally something I have picked off the shelf in the shop, and sits on my desk, to be read during breaks from selling the things.  It usually takes me about a week to finish, and means I can read two books at the same time.

Sometimes, however, not often, I come across something which I have to buy.  I can't confine it merely to an hour a day, I need to own it, carry it around with me wherever (and whenever) I go, devour it at every waking opportunity.  Such was the case with Michael Grant's Gone.

Allow me to provide a little bit of context.  A few weeks ago my husband arrived home with a sheepish expression clutching the small block of flats which is The Wise Man's Fear.  If you know anything about fantasy, this is the release of the year, along with A Dance with Dragons and Republic of Thieves.  All three of these are written by authors who like to keep their readers impatiently waiting and guessing to the extent which might even make J K Rowling feel slightly guilty.  We arrived late to the party as far as The Name of the Wind is concerned, but we were still pretty keen to read the sequel.

I read the first few chapters, up until Kvothe resumes his narrative, before grudgingly handing it back over to Marc.  "It's OK," I thought to myself.  "He bought it, he should get to read it first.  And anyway, I still have Blood Magic to finish and review."

Marc finished it pretty quickly.  He's a fast reader, and anyway, if you've read either of his books, you'll know how very, very addictive Rothfuss' writing is.  Marc then passed it to me, and I spent a weekend reading the first hundred pages or so.

But then, the following Monday, I picked up a copy of Gone for my 'lunch time' book.  Big mistake.  "Aah..." I thought.  "It's going to be one of those."

Yes, you read that right.  Kvothe has a curse on him!  He's trying to find the sygaldry necessary for protection!  But, nonetheless, I gave this up in order to read Gone.

"You mean all the adults?  They're gone?"
"Poof.  They ditched.  They blinked out.  They vacated.  They took the off-ramp.  They cut a hole.  They emigrated.  Adults and teenagers.  Nothing left but kids."

Comparisons can, of course, be made to Lord of the Flies:  this is a study of just how cruel children can be to one another once adult influence has departed.  There's also an X-Men element too, as some of the children begin to develop strange powers.

There's certainly a Lord of the Flies-reminiscent central couple.  Sam is the charismatic natural leader who everybody looks to in a crisis, mainly because he is the only person capable of responding immediately to a crisis.  He has at his side Astrid, who is the smart, rational voice of reason.  Their relationship is brilliantly written - sweet, tender and always believable.

"You're not the others."
"No?  Why?"
"Because I love you."

Not that Ralph and Piggy had quite this relationship, but judging by the sheer volume of slash fanfiction that's out there, you could be mistaken for thinking otherwise.

Meanwhile, Caine is also charismatic.  He also displays many of the symptoms of a psychopath.  Sam becomes a leader because he has to; Caine uses the bizzare, terrifying situation they're in as a clever excuse to seize power.  He's excellent in a crisis: he has the cold, calculating ability to instantly come to terms with a situation, and twist it to his advantage.  He has at his side Diana, who is just as cold.  She's almost as smart as Astrid; they even share a very similar power.  Diana and Caine's relationship is in fact the very antithesis of Astrid's and Sam's.

"You're scared of me after all, Diana.  All your attitude, and underneath it, you're scared.  Well, I don't want to seem like a pathetic little kid going for his first kiss, so how about you just give me what I want?"

Not that Jack and Roger had quite this relationship, but judging by the sheer volume of slash fanfiction that's out there, you could be mistaken for thinking otherwise.

(Look, we all read and indeed write fanfiction at some point in our lives, OK?  Even if it's the tale of how your fifth level ogre barbarian became a vegetarian*, it's still fanfiction!)

The scariest character however is Drake, Caine's primary henchman.  This is someone who takes cruelty to a new level.  He comes up with ideas that other people simply can't.  The most disturbing scenes in the book come from him.  Genuinely frightening, however, is when the children become aware of the Darkness.  It's not really explained or described; it's something hiding in the dark, terrifying both animals and people.  Drake, however, manages to make a deal with it.  Not even Lord of the Flies' Jack went this far - although he did come close.  More to the point, the Darkness realises that it can use Drake, too.

"Ah.  I have found a much better teacher for you."

The story of Gone is principally setting up a situation, and the immediate fallout from this situation.  All the adults are gone, and the whole town has been cut off by a spherical forcefield, just to ram home the point that they're entirely on their own.  There's also the fact that animals seem to be mutating, developing special powers alongside the children.

"What is it?"
"A flying snake."
"Oh, that's good, because I was starting to think we didn't have enough to worry about." 

It's a situation which can bring out the best in people.  I wouldn't want you thinking this is just a story about children being nasty to one another.  Mary and her little brother John immediately recognise that the very young children will need looking after, and appoint themselves to this tremendously difficult task.  Of course they're too young to really know what they're doing, leading to the utterly tragic scene whereby the result of not making sure everyone was accounted for comes to horrible fruition.

I also have a soft spot for Albert, who sets himself up in the MacDonald's very early on, as a way to make sure people can always have something to eat.  But it's more than that - he recognises that in this new society, nobody has any goals; nobody contributes.  Children are just sitting around doing very little.  There is no economy.  One of the few wry scenes in the book contains Albert going along to the library and doing research in order to explain his disquiet to himself:

"This was just like following hyperlinks, but slower."

There's also the central friendship between Sam and his best friend Quinn, which suffers as Sam spends more time with first Edilio, another person good in a crisis, and then Astrid.  Quinn is someone I have a lot of sympathy for.  He's brave, but unfortunately has a high level of self-preservation which prevents him from intervening in situations where Sam and Edilio have no such qualms, despite the risks to themselves.  This leads to him being isolated from his friends, as they look down on him for cowardice.  Perhaps this is justifiable, but it certainly makes for uncomfortable reading - what would most people do in these situations?  If a bully is given the power to essentially beat somebody to unconsciousness, it takes a very strong person to intervene. 

I'm absolutely desperate to read Hunger, the next book in the series.  I must finish The Wise Man's Fear first, though.  This is rather like being told I have to finish my Ben and Jerry's ice cream before I can have my Haagen Daz!

*I don't think I need to give credit where it's due...there are only five other people in the world who know to which I refer!

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