What if you were a disillusioned teenager given the option to get away from it all? What if getting away from it all involved moving to another planet? Meet Sarah Orange. She’s moving to The Oberon – a new world accessible not by space flight, but by a mysterious portal in the South Pacific. New opportunities abound and a new life awaits off-world.
Sounds like fun? Not quite.
Things are not what they seem at The Oberon and Sarah realises quickly that she has made a mistake. It’s a wondrous yet dangerous place where the indigenous population are mistreated, where gangs roam abandoned areas looking for valuable salvage and where seemingly everyone has an agenda.
Things start to go wrong pretty quickly for Sarah and she finds herself pulled into the dark underbelly of this alien world with life-changing consequences.
It’s an interestingly written tale, initially daunting for the reader by being written in the second person (I’m a 42 year old man it’s pretty hard to imagine myself as a teenage girl!) but it quickly becomes obvious why West has opted for this style. It reminds me of one of those Fighting Fantasy books that were popular back in the 80’s, except with all the options taken away. This mirrors Sarah’s out-of-control journey up to the point where she makes a conscious decision to regain control of what’s happening to her and it’s at this point her character really starts to become interesting, even though she’s been corrupted somewhat along the way.
The writing is sharp and funny oozing with pop culture references and sci-fi shenaniganism. Shades of Hunter S. Thompson flirt effortlessly with undertones of Lewis Carroll, while squeezing in a closing time drunken tango with Tom Waits.
West’s World (pardon the pun) is well-crafted and does it’s best to be practical while embracing the more supernatural elements of the alien world, it’s population and the means to travel there. Sometimes it’s an uneasy marriage between the two, with the supernatural element providing a quick fix or an easy way out of some seemingly impossible situations but in most cases it works. Rather than being some Avatar-like fantasy planet The Oberon is a bleak, dangerous and mysterious model of inhospitality and it’s inhabitants while tolerating the human settlers, clearly despise them.
This book won’t be to everyone’s taste but that’s a good thing. West playfully pokes a cheeky satirical finger in the eye of recent Young Adult fiction by showing what would be the more realistic outcome of a teenager finding themselves put in this situation and by portraying a deeply flawed and selfish character who rather than being a clean cut hero, makes some terrible decisions, trusts some pretty shady characters while doing her best to dig herself out of the monumentally large hole she has dug for herself. It’s a tricky but ultimately enjoyable read and a welcome break from the sci-fi norm.
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UK / Ireland – amazon.co.uk