Have you ever started a book thinking ‘gosh I hope this is incredibly confusing and leaves me not really sure where I am or what I’m doing?’ I certainly haven’t. But perhaps that’s exactly what you’re looking for in life. If so, read on and find out what I’ve managed to piece together after reading Gleam.
In this Gormenghastian world the Factory is the law – but that does not
The Gargantuan factory of Gleam has seen a millennia of decreasing population. Now the central district is fully inhabited and operational; the outskirts have been left for the wilderness to reclaim. This decaying, lawless zone is the Discard; the home of Wild Alan. He’s convinced that the Gleam authorities were behind the disaster that killed his parents and his ambition is to prove it. But he’ll uncover more secrets than he bargained for.
So, where to begin with this one? Well let’s discuss our main character ‘Wild Alan’ for a start. He’s your classic ‘love to hate’ hero who makes a series of poor choices throughout the book and rarely changes for the better. I’ve not seen Breaking Bad but from what I’ve gathered it’s that descent into immorality while still trying to be a tolerable (if not likeable) main character. Alan certainly manages to make a lot of poor choices in this book. What I think this book could have done better is to have made him a bit more likeable at the start of the book so the contrast was greater, or to have told his backstory through flashbacks so you get reminded of his potential to be a decent human being? Instead you’re left wondering why you should support this fairly unpleasant person and it just means you don’t follow his journey as attentively as you might otherwise.
There are other characters, however, that I was incredibly interested in. We have the mapmaker Bloody Nora (whose story is largely where the ‘magical’ elements to this story converge) who was badass and amazing, there’s Spider who is a tattoo artist and general awesome individual, there’s a whole band of unlikely heroes who are all far more interesting than Alan himself. Maybe if this had been a bit more like Six of Crows in that each character is explored and explained a bit more rather than focussing on one character I would have been more interested.
I can’t deny this is a cool setting. There’s the contrast between the sinister safety and cleanliness of the Pyramid and the danger (but freedom) of the Discard. The main thing that interested me about the Discard was it’s many forms. We had industrial elements alongside organic features, there’s the threat of the swamp below. It had something a little reminiscent of Beyond the Deepwoods which is one of my favourite Middle Grade Series. In fact, if Chris Riddell could have illustrated this book I would have been all for it.
My main problem with this book is not in the world building but with the storyline. Once I had worked out that I wasn’t really rooting for Alan in this scenario I stopped being concerned with what happened to him and, in a story where he is the main character you begin to lose interest entirely. But the story itself is a little odd. I think because Fletcher is trying to build up the mystery of what is happening in the pyramid and in Gleam as a whole for later books you’re just left floundering wondering why on earth anything operates the way it does. Is this the future? Is it an alternative universe? Why can some people wield magic but only in a very specific way? Who are the bad guys in a world where pretty much everyone has to be a terrible human being to survive?
I will say that the writing, not the storytelling but the writing itself, was lovely to read. It’s very evocative, the more disgusting parts actually made my skin crawl and the descriptions of the discard did make me feel like I was really there, so if you’re looking to experience a creepy new setting then maybe this will work for you?
It may be that a reread is necessary to fully appreciate what was going on in this book. It may be that the sequel Idle Hands which releases at the end of July will start to explain things that this book did not. It may be that I’m just not bright enough to grasp the genius of this story. Either way, this book just wasn’t for me.
My rating: 3/5 stars. (I’d give it 2 but I did enjoy the concept)
By the way, I received a digital advanced review copy of Gleam from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.
What do you think? Will you be braving the world of Gleam?