reading, Reviews

Review: Displaced

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of Displaced ahead of release by the author, Dan Hook, for review purposes.

Post-apocalyptic books, from my own experience, live or die on the strength of the imagery and world-building, but also on the strength of the characters that populate that world and the plot that befalls them. In Displaced, all of this happens with some aplomb.

Displaced is an assiduously-written adventure, with crisp, tight prose that really doesn’t impose itself upon the reader, instead laying the foundations for the characters we make acquaintances of to introduce the world and the story. That’s a great positive for me as unobtrusive, but not inelegant prose is a challenge to get right. Displaced succeeds.

We meet three main characters who have, at first glance, very different starting points: Zara, a young girl from Carbon City, one of the principle settlements in the world Dan has built, is working where she shouldn’t at Russet Dam. Quickly we are alluded to the fact that what Zara, and her accomplice, Trent are doing, isn’t quite in the spirit of helping the community they come from. Whatever clandestine task Zara has gotten herself wrapped up in goes awry and she finds herself on the wrong side of the tracks, looking for a way home.

Then we meet Shelby, whose idyllic agrarian lifestyle – living off the land on the grassy outskirts of Lornstern, portrayed as a veritable Eden – is predictably disrupted by the arrival of hostiles. These hostiles quickly disrupt Shelby’s idyllic agrarian lifestyle and threaten to turn his world inside out.

Finally, we meet Luther, head of security in Carbon City, tasked with investigating the events Zara found herself wrapped up in, and balancing the political ramifications both at home and outside with methods that raise eyebrows to say the least.

These are three distinct and diverse characters, and the narrative switches between. One of the successes of the approach Dan takes with this triumvirate of protagonists is that the reader finds themselves wanting to know what happens in each thread of the story, eager to see them coalesce together. The strands begin as separate entities but are clearly signposted as the book develops as being on a collision course, and this drives the story forward.

Dan does a great job in piecing together the world that this book takes place in – unencumbered by the geography of the present world we, the reader, are aware of, he creates a totally new world reshaped by events several centuries before. This allows total creative ability to create geography, lore and politics between the various zones.

I thought the choice to focus the characters around Carbon City was an interesting and successful one as Carbon City, despite its auspicious name, is not the crowning glory or de-facto superpower of the region: indeed, there are multiple external factors that put the settlement on the back foot and this really raises the stakes: Carbon City is in a delicate peace with the militarily-superior Eastern Legion of Trittle and trying to negotiate with Sol to gain access to their strategically-important oil resources. There are great hints that Carbon City can talk the talk more than perhaps it can walk the walk, so this keeping up of appearances adds an urgency to at least one of the main character threads.

The events of the story fall broadly into a theme of Carbon City trying to remain relevant and competitive; Zara’s guerrilla activities threaten the fragile peace with Trittle and threaten derailing the oil negotiations. On the other hand, it becomes readily apparent that Shelby is forced to participate in a clandestine, sneaky evening of the score for Carbon City against these changing odds.

If I had to pick which character’s story intrigued me the most, I would say the storyline of Luther seemed the most developed of the three: his character has the most development – we see him constantly battling against what could very well be violent and unpredictable mood swings to maintain the façade of sophistication in his interactions. Plus, I wasn’t sure for the majority of the book whether his character was good or bad – his intentions seem to be in the interest of Carbon City at the beginning but slowly more and more it seems like the opportunity to do right by the City is also an opportunity for personal political gain. Ostensibly, he is conducting an investigation that threatens to harm the efforts to maintain Carbon City’s relevance in the region but his methods and the opportunities presented in this endeavour leave these noble intentions in question throughout and we end up pondering quite what Luther’s end goals happen to be.

Overall though, the narrative is plenty intriguing to draw us, the reader, into the world of Displaced. The three threads do achieve some commonality toward to conclusion of the book and we’re left on a precipice wondering what happens next. The book is astutely titled as we do see all the main characters are displaced from the positions – physical and political – we encounter them in at the offset.

That said, if I had to think of one thing this book had lacking, it was a self-contained story that stands alone. Displaced does feel like a portal to the wider adventure we’re embarking upon, and less of a stand-alone story as we don’t reach any firm conclusions on the character. It does well to plant plenty of intrigue into what will follow up in the next book but I did feel this book was calling out for a story arc its own, especially as the rest of the series is yet to come. However, this aside, crisp writing and vivid, compelling worldbuilding and action retained my interest and left me wanting more!

I’m also hoping that Shelby and Zara’s story treads get the development and depth that Luther’s appeared to have; I want to find out what happens to them and how this ties together!

But these things aside, Displaced has a ton of positives going for it. I really enjoyed Dan’s writing style and voice, it really hit the nail – paradoxically hard-to-achieve of easy to read writing. The prose is not obstructive to the plot but it doesn’t lack style.

Overall thoughts on Displaced are that the quality of the prose and the richness of the world – combined with three intriguing and engaging plot threads, especially strongly on the part of Luther’s story – offset there not being as well-developed a stand-alone story arc for the book on its own as I feel it deserves. I see this as a very well-written and lusciously-built world and I’m eager and excited to see what Dan has planned next for the series!

My rating: Highly Recommended

Find out more information on Displaced on Dan’s website: danhook.co.uk

Displaced launches on Amazon on September 1st 2020 (paperback) and September 8th 2020 (Kindle)

reading, Reviews

Review: Blue Moon (Paperback)

I’ve been on a binge of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child – so much so I’ll be talking about that very soon – and picked up the so-far most current paperback, Blue Moon.

It’s worthwhile to preface why I enjoy these books – often I’ll describe them as the literary equivalent of a packet of crisps, and not a derisory comment – they’re easy to enjoy and don’t require a lot of thought to enjoy, so that makes them accessible. There’s a universality of the protagonist Jack Reacher that makes him accessible to a lot of readers – he’s rough and ready, action oriented, pragmatic but with a moral core. And the mechanism of his nomadic lifestyle, drifting across the country on a Greyhound bus allows him to pop up seemingly anywhere, just when trouble is brewing.

Which is how we begin with Blue Moon – Jack Reacher is riding a Greyhound bus as it approaches a city so unremarkable we never learn its name. He sees an old man in front of him with a bundle of cash. Someone else on the bus is eyeing up the money. The bus stops in the bad part of town. Jack Reacher saves the old man from being mugged. And we begin our descent -from being a good citizen – to bringing the bad guys to some kind of tough justice.

Blue Moon ticks off some of the aspects of my most favourite Jack Reacher books I’ve read so far – it plunges Reacher into a situation with barely any room to breathe. There’s bad guys everywhere and this leads to taut action scenes avoiding capture or discovery. In Blue Moon there’s Ukraininan and Albanian gangs controlling respective sides of town. It becomes, as the story unfolds, a very suspenseful dance to avoid being detected as Reacher unpicks both the backstory behind the Shevicks – the kind old couple who’ve hit desperate times who he helps – and the stranglehold that these gangs have on the city.

Jack Reacher books are formulaic – but that’s not a negative. Indeed, that formulaic nature is a big part of the enjoyability of this ‘literary bag of crisps’ – you know what you’re getting. Reacher arrives on the scene and trouble either erupts in front of him or his morality – righting a wrong he witnesses – leads him to discover the mystery. Blue Moon definitely adheres to the formula as Reacher slowly coaxes out the finer points of the story. It develops at a linear pace, gradually accelerating to the climax. There’s great scenes – tension, action and cunning. Reacher’s efforts to evade the detection of the gangs roaming hit-squads are tense and rewarding. His multi-layered subterfuges are quite juicy and pay off nicely. There’s some stealth and tension that reveals intricate thought behind the plot. And the final takedown at the story’s climax is quite good too – plenty of rough, street justice.

However, considering that, Blue Moon has an ugly side in that it is so gratuitiously violent.

That said violence is no stranger to the Jack Reacher books. It’s always visceral, no-holds-barred but measured in its application. One of Reacher’s traits that’s one I can relate to is that violence is a last resort, and often Reacher will warn his cocksure adversaries of their impending errors. If they choose to continue or not heed the warning, so be it.

But Blue Moon has possibly one of the highest body-counts of any of the Reacher books I’ve read so far. Indeed, Reacher, in the story, recruits a few Marine acquaintances to form some kind of rough-and-tough mercenary force that is utterly unstoppable. Sure, Jack Reacher never seems to lose, but in Blue Moon he walks over the literal piled bodies of those who crossed him. And there seems to be no comeback to that – the police are completely buttoned up to the point they’re side characters who only appear from afar.

I’d like for the stakes to be a bit higher – and for Reacher to have to work more. But for all the intricate plotting that slowly unwraps – not totally perfect, requiring some level of suspension-of-disbelief – is let down and undermined by the impotency of any judicial comeback on Reacher, and the sheer number of gangland heavies that get cut down in the crossfire. Yes, Reacher stays true to his mantra of warning those not to cross him of the consequences, and putting down those who commit immoral acts he “doesn’t like”, but the bulldozer-like approach just left me with a bit of a sour taste.

Jack Reacher is better when he’s more human, and more falliable. Yes, as our protagonist and some kind of masculine hero, we the reader know he’ll ultimately win the day. But in Blue Moon, despite some crisp, meaty scenes of tension and action, it reduces a nominally-dangerous threat – two large gangs jostling for control of the city – down to some kind of circus in how easy – and without any threat – they are disarmed and left for dead.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Blue Moon but I feel it did both the best and the worst of what I expect from my literary bag of Walkers.

If I had to pick a flavour that summed up Blue Moon, I’d say: Pickled Onion. Enjoyable but with an aftertaste that lingers that’ll leave your eyes watering.

Verdict: Recommended