The Road to Bedlam is Mike Shevdon’s follow-up to Sixty-One Nails, picking up where that left off, and this review will contain spoilers for that novel.
The first novel ends on a pseudo-cliffhanger; will Alex have powers, or won’t she? How will Blackbird’s pregnancy turn out? What does being a Warden of the Courts mean? This book is an answer to two of these questions, and Shevdon gives us a look at the answer to the third.
The characters are similarly well-drawn; a lot of people from the first novel are revisited – including villains and non-Feyre – and they’re expanded upon a little, more information given about them and new details revealed; we learn more, for instance, about Claire and about Sam, and a lot more about the Seventh Court. Furthermore, we learn about human/Feyre interactions past and present – the implications of the decision that split the Seventh Court from the other six are explored, in part, and prove to be long-lasting and somewhat potentially destructive.
Shevdon’s not skimped on the humour, either – there’s moments in this book where one wants to simply laugh out loud, and there are moments which are sly and subtle in their amusement, a nicely paced and finely balanced trick that Shevdon rather excellently manages. At times it gets in the way of the plot or the characters, but in general it adds rather than detracts from the novel.
If there’s one criticism I have, it’s that the pacing is off; the occasional point-of-view switch to Blackbird throws the timing of the novel off somewhat, and the two plotlines in which Niall is intimately involved are paced so differently and yet interweave so much that things just seem not to work – he’s in two places at once, or neglecting one thing for another, or doing neither, for far too much of this novel; Shevdon’s attempt to interweave two elements that are so disparate and separate has, I think, drastically weakened this novel.
However, it remains a wonderful read, and really justifies the cover-quote on Sixty-One Nails: “Neverwhere for the next generation.” I really do want to keep following where Shevdon leads.
This review was based on an eARC from Angry Robot Books. The novel will be out in MMPB on September 2nd in the UK.
This is in the vein of novels like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and China Miéville’s King Rat: mixing fantasy with the city, and – as is common – the city of London. It also has a touch of Marie Brennan mixed in, with the Feyre (or Fey) playing a major role as the alternative London; and as usual, whilst playing on a common trope, it throws in its own spin.
The plot’s relatively straightforward – man enters world he didn’t know, of mystery and strangeness; goes on quest; discovers power, resolves personal issues, falls in love; succeeds and wins out. However, Shevdon does an impressive job in keeping the suspense there regardless; the plot may be straightforward, in simple terms, but the specifics make it a far more interesting proposition than the generalisations I’ve just written. Whilst not really twists and turns, the tricks and elements Shevdon introduces make the novel far more interesting and the story is more compelling for it.
He also writes great characters, especially Rabbit and Blackbird – though by no means them alone. Rabbit’s is the perspective from which we experience the novel, first-person as it is, as he is plunged into the world of the Feyre; it’s a good perspective as he is, indeed, intelligent and insightful but not willing entirely to accept the world he’s thrust into (as in the Gaiman and the Miéville, indeed). Every character is rounded and individual, and the writing makes them stand out from each other in almost every respect really clearly; a masterpiece.
Shevdon’s writing really helps the novel, not just in terms of characters but in terms of pace. He knows when to speed up and when to slow down, and he manages to make really interesting ideas clear, and really strange elements – some of the magic for instance – are so well and vividly described you can imagine Shevdon himself experiencing them, and as the reader you are certainly drawn into the same feeling of personal experience of the events.
All in all, Shevdon’s novel is a pleasure to read, and a compelling novel start to finish; I look forward to reading its sequel!


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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