Guest Post: “Plausible Fictions and Strange Realities” by Stephanie Saulter

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Readers of this blog will know that I absolutely love the (R)evolution trilogy written by Stephanie Saulter. Not only is it excellently written and tells an emotional, action-packed, intelligent tale, it also hits relatively close to home in my case. As a bioscientist I was not only fascinated by the science fiction, but also by the plausibility of the science Stephanie used in her books. It is great to read a book that uses my area of expertise as a scaffold to build a whole story around. When I talked to Stephanie at LonCon last year, I mentioned that for me, as a scientist, I thought it was incredible that she wrote a fictional story that I could see happening one day. To my surprise, she told me that most people who are not scientists don’t think the story is plausible, while scientists do.
To celebrate the release of the second (R)evolution book, Binary (read my review here), in paperback Stephanie stops by the blog to talk about the science in her books and the contradiction between what the scientists and the non-scientists think about it.


 

Plausible Fictions and Strange Realities

One of the things I imagine every author of science fiction dreads – especially if the science on which their fiction is based is one in which they are not personally an expert – is that someone who is expert will read it, snort derisively, and declare that it is completely off base, a million miles from reality, never ever happen. That their speculation has been wildly unrealistic, fundamentally implausible, and that the entire work is fatally flawed as a result.

There are a number of strategies to ward off this deadly possibility. They all pretty much begin with do your research: you should try to know at least as much as any reasonably well-read layperson. From that point, paths diverge. One option is to set the story so far into the future you can hand-wave away any objections to the technology; not my choice, personally, but a very popular one. Another is to be deeply descriptive and desperately specific about every last theorem, gizmo and widget, ensuring they are well within the known laws of whatever field you’re playing in; possible if you are the aforementioned expert, dangerous for anyone else, and tedious (in my opinion) for most readers. Or there’s the route I take: be specific enough to be plausible, but not enough to be wrong. Indulge in no more technical detail than that well-read layperson is likely to encounter within the pages of their intelligent, but mass-market, news or lifestyle journal. Speak in informed generalities.

Know that you might still be caught out, whichever route you take; that one way or another the passage of time will date the presumptions on which your work is based. Resign yourself to the possibility that, sooner or later, someone who knows what they’re talking about will declare that you don’t.

It might happen one day. But so far, I’ve had the opposite experience.

Oh, there’ve been comments that the radical genetic engineering that is the base ‘science’ of the ®Evolution books seems a bit farfetched and implausible, a bit over the top in novels which are largely social-realist in their core concerns. To my great relief, none of the people who think this have, so far, been geneticists.

The feedback from the people who do know what they’re talking about – people who actually work in the biosciences – is that my witterings about epigenetic triggers and suppressants, chromosomal modifications and mutations, inter-species splicing and the like, have in general been entirely plausible (and that, in a genre where the dominant science for speculation is still physics, they’re rather pleased to see their own discipline taken out and played with).

So. What are we to make of this?

It speaks, I think, to a general lack of appreciation for actual, ongoing developments in the biosciences. Given how radically those developments have changed the lives of virtually every person on the planet in less than a century – think vaccines and antibiotics, anaesthesia and antiseptics, painkillers, antidepressants, cloning, GM crops, organ replacements, genetic screening, artificial insulin, IVF, antivirals, and on and on and on – this strikes me as a massive cultural oversight. And I have a theory: fiction is partly to blame.

For a very long time now, speculative fiction has been primarily rooted in the ‘hard’ sciences of Newtonian physics, cosmology and more recently quantum mechanics, and the notions of expansion and exploration that they can so easily be made to imply. Extra-terrestrial imaginings abound. Thanks to Hollywood, just about everyone can conjure up a mental picture of what manned, faster-than-light space travel might be like – though we still don’t know whether such a thing could ever be possible.

Thanks to medicine, it is a certainty that no one anywhere in the world will get smallpox ever again. That is a real-life, honest-to-god miracle, accomplished during my lifetime; but there is no glamour attached to it. The fairy dust of fictional extrapolation has somehow passed it by.

The result is an impoverished imaginative space, which finds it easier to accept a space-operatic vision of today’s humans in a far future setting than a biologically altered humanity living in the world we know within the next century. In a way, the hand-waviness wins: a very long time from now we’ll be able to do all sorts of things! Never mind how! But, a fundamentally altered species in twenty, fifty, a hundred years? Within the lifetime of your children and grandchildren, people you might actually live to see and know? For some reason, the collective cultural imagination balks at that.

It shouldn’t.

I’ve got news for you, folks. I, Stephanie Saulter, born and raised in one of the world’s ‘undeveloped’ countries, am immune to polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and probably a bunch of other things I don’t even know about. (There was no anti-vaccine nonsense when I was growing up. People remembered what disfigurement, disability and early death were like.) I’ve recovered completely from an injury that in another age would have at the very least crippled me, and from an illness – several, actually – that in all likelihood would have killed me. I am already altered.

So, I suspect, are you.

We need fictions that engage with that reality, and with the potential it implies. It’s through our stories that we – individually, collectively, culturally – codify our attitudes and our ethics, our aspirations and our taboos. It’s how we work out what we think about the unthinkable.

We’ve done a lot of speculating about what might happen if and when we encounter intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. I enjoy those books; I don’t want people to stop writing them. But we’ve spent comparatively little storytime considering the impact that we, the only fully intelligent beings we are certain exist, are having on our own evolution, right here, right now. I don’t want us to stop doing that either, but I do want us to start thinking about it. I want us to start speculating about that reality. It is immediate and pressing, and we need a body of literature that addresses it.


 

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About the author

Stephanie Saulter writes what she likes to think is literary science fiction. She is the author of the ®Evolution trilogy: the first novel, Gemsigns, is available everywhere and the second, Binary, is out in paperback in the UK and Europe on 2nd April (and in hardback in the US on 5th May). The final book, Regeneration, will be released in the UK in July. Stephanie lives in London, blogs unpredictably at stephaniesaulter.com and tweets only slightly more reliably as @scriptopus.

 

 

 

Update: March

Read and Currently Reading

When I received the big tome that is ‘Knight’s Shadow’ by Sebastien de Castell, I couldn’t wait to read it. This month I’ve been working pretty long days, so there wasn’t that much time for reading. Combine that with a 600-page book that I wanted to read at my own leisure and the conclusion is that I haven’t read that many books this month.

I have finished ‘Knight’s Shadow’ which, in my opinion, was just as great as the first book in the Greatcoats saga, ‘Traitor’s Blade’. I’m very curious to see what the third book will bring and where it will lead our band of characters.

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I’m currently re-reading ‘Astra’ by Naomi Foyle, so I get a better idea of the world she created again before I start the second book in the series, ‘Rooksong’. I remember ‘Astra’ being a very interesting and thought-provoking book and I’m really happy to revisit it again.

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Another book that I’m reading is ‘Grudgebearer’ of which I received the sequel ‘Oathkeeper’ a week or two ago. So far it’s been an really fascinating book that explores an interesting culture of beings living by the oaths they swear. A strongly magical world serves as the background for this story and somehow I had a definite ‘click’ with it. Curious how that will progress throughout the book.

Movies and Series

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A few days ago I decided to pick up on a series I’d left some time ago: ‘Once Upon a Time’. I used to love it but lost interest due to the million other series I wanted to follow. Now that I’ve started watching it again, I have to say I’m hooked. I’ve just started season 3 and I have this itch to keep watching ‘just one more episode’ every single moment of the day.

I also couldn’t resist the urge to buy the ‘Mockingjay’ DVD the minute it came out. I’ve watched it again at home this time and it’s still as good as I remember. Part II can’t be released fast enough for me.

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Another series I started just last night is ‘The Tomorrow People’. I was very reluctant to start it because it got cancelled after just one season. But it kept popping up on Netflix and because I wanted something new to watch I decided to try it. Though the concept isn’t entirely new, I kinda liked it. I’m quickly becoming a Robbie Amell fan (but with a cousin like Stephen, that isn’t really a surprise) and the storyline has just enough mystery and promise to keep me watching. It’s also quite action-packed, so let’s see what I think about this first season and if it was rightfully cancelled or not.

Posts in March

The King’s Hand – The Knight of Eldaran #2 – Anna Thayer

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Release date: June 11th, 2014
Publisher: Lion Fiction
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 523
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Like many from his village, young Eamon Goodhand dreamed of joining the Gauntlet, the army of the overlord Eldered. Now he is about to complete his training and swear his loyalty to Eldered and his commanders, the Hands, who uphold Eldered’s tight control of the land. Entering into the service of the Gauntlet, Eamon’s gifts, particularly his potent Sight, quickly become valuable to his superiors and he advances to the command rank at a speed that arouses the suspicions of fellow officers.

However, Eldered’s bloody rule, and Eamon’s personal friendships, start to challenge the young soldier’s assumptions about what might be true, and worthy of service. And soon Eamon must conceal a fatal secret: he is sworn to both Eldered and to Hughan, the rightful king of the land. Yet he may not forswear the vows he has uttered in all good faith so however he serves, his name will be traitor.

As tensions and military skirmishes increase, Eamon finds himself trusted by both his masters. How can he possibly maintain his integrity, act justly to his fellow officers of the Gauntlet, and act on behalf of all the warring people of the land?

Review:

Following her debut ‚The Traitor’s Heir’, Anna Thayer continues her story about the brewing war between King and Master in the second book in the ‚The Knight of Eldaran’ series. The King is gathering his forces and threatening to take over the land from the usurper, the Master. Eamon Goodman, who infiltrated the Master’s seat, Dunthruik in the first book had a hard time coping with his double life, but seems to have finally made a decision in ‚The King’s Hand’.

Read the rest of this entry

Blood Will Follow – Valhalla Saga #2 – Snorri Kristjansson

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Release date: June 5th, 2014
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 308
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Ulfar Thormodsson and Audun Arngrimsson have won the battle for Stenvik, although at huge cost, for they have suffered much worse than heartbreak. They have lost the very thing that made them human: their mortality.

While Ulfar heads home, looking for the place where he thinks he will be safe, Audun runs south. But both men are about to discover that they can not run away from themselves.

King Olav might have been defeated outside the walls of Stenvik, but now Valgard leads him north, in search of the source of the Vikings’ power.

All the while there are those who watch and wait, biding their time, for there are secrets yet to be discovered…

Review

 

He’s done it again! ‘Blood Will Follow’ is the second book in the Valhalla Saga, following the fascinating ‘Swords of Good Men’. The story of Ulfar, Audun and Valgard continues after the battle at Stenvik and all the mysterious and baffling things that happened there.

Read the rest of this entry

Cover Reveal: ‘Under My Skin’ by Zoë Markham

Typing this title and Zoë’s name has made me all kinds of excited. Zoë was one of the first book bloggers I got to know on the internet and I’m extremely happy for her that her debut YA novel ‘Under My Skin’ will be published the 31st of March! Today she revealed the stunning cover for her book and I want to share it with all of you. But first, let’s see what the book is all about:

Inside we are all monsters…

Chloe was once a normal girl. Until the night of the car crash that nearly claimed her life. Now Chloe’s mother is dead, her father is a shell of the man he used to be and the secrets that had so carefully kept their family together are falling apart.

A new start is all Chloe and her father can hope for, but when you think you’re no longer human how can you ever start pretending?

A contemporary reworking of a British horror classic, Under My Skin follows seventeen-year-old Chloe into an isolated world of darkness and pain, as she struggles to understand what it really means to be alive.

Set against the familiar backdrop of everyday, normal teenage worries, Chloe’s world has become anything but…

 

Doesn’t that sound absolutely fascinating? You can pre-order the book on amazon if you’re just as curious about this story as I am! Now it’s time for that fabulous cover…

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What do you guys think?

Spotlight: ‘Marked’ by Sue Tingey

After I received the lovely review package for this book I can’t help but spread my excitement about it. I’ve only read the first few pages, but I’m already captivated by the main character and her story. Keep this one on your radar, folks, I have a feeling it will be a great book!

About the book

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With no family and very few friends, Lucky’s psychic ability has always made her an outcast. The only person she can rely on is Kayla, the ghost girl who has been with her since she was born.

But Kayla is not all that she appears.

And when Lucky is visited by a demonic assassin with a message for her friend, she finds herself dragged into the Underlands – and the political fight for the daemon king’s throne.

Lucky, trapped in the daemon world, is determined to find her way home… until she finds herself caught between the charms of the Guardian Jamie, the charismatic Daemon of Death Jinx – and the lure of finding out who she really is.

‘Marked’ will be released in the UK on the 7th of May by Jo Fletcher Books.

About the author

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Sue Tingey spent 28 years with a major British bank before leaving the corporate life to work as Practice Manager for an Arboricultural Consultancy. She lives with her husband (and Koi carp) in East Grinstead, West Sussex. Marked, Book One of the Soulseer Chronicles, is her first novel. You can contact her on Twitter @SueTingey.

Your Brother’s Blood – The Walkin’ Trilogy #1 – David Towsey

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Release date: August 29th, 2013
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Age Group: (Young) Adult
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Thomas is thirty-two. He comes from the small town of Barkley. He has a wife there, Sarah, and a child, Mary; good solid names from the Good Book. And he is on his way home from the war, where he has been serving as a conscripted soldier.

Thomas is also dead – he is one of the Walkin’.

And Barkley does not suffer the wicked to live.

 

Review:

If you’re picking up ‘Your Brother’s Blood’ and expect it’s just another zombie novel, then let me tell you: it’s not. Though the Walkin’, as they are called in this book, are basically zombies, this is not a usual zombie story. So don’t wonder if the zombie context has been used too many times or if this book will lack originality, because ‘Your Brother’s Blood’ will show you the theme from a completely different perspective.
Different from many zombie novels, this one is more psychological than action-packed. If you want a break from all the swordfights and space battles, this is the book you should pick up.

Read the rest of this entry

Update – February

This month has gone by WAY too fast. It feels like I just arrived in the UK, but in reality this is the 5th week after I moved here. It’s been insane. I hadn’t expected that my campus was so secluded, so getting around and more importantly, getting food is a major struggle. That said, it’s really nice here. The work I’m doing is fun and the people I work with are fantastic. I’ve also read some really good books this month, which always makes me happy.

Read and Currently Reading

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In all the chaos of adapting to the new environment and the new workplace, I’ve only finished 2 books this month: ‘Your Brother’s Blood’ by David Towsey and ‘The Mysteries’ by Lisa Tuttle. Both were excellent books.

I’m currently reading way to many books at once, so here is a short overview:

  • ‘Graceling’ by Kristin Cashore
  • ‘Wolfhound Century’ by Peter Higgins
  • ‘Knight’s Shadow’ by Sebastien de Castell

 

 

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I bought ‘Graceling’ when I was traveling the first weekend I was in the UK and immediately started reading it, because I forgot to take the book I was reading at the moment with me. Though it is a compelling and a fun story, the writing doesn’t seem to click with me, so I’ve put it aside for now.

Higgins_WolfhoundCentury-TP

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‘Wolfhound Century’ is a book I’m reading rather slowly. Due to my chronic illness, I wake up a lot at night and I can’t fall asleep again without something reassuring to calm me down. I don’t like harsh light at night, so whenever this happens, I read the e-books on my iPad (with the black background and dimmed as far down as possible). ‘Wolfhound Century’ is the book I’ve been reading during those sleepless moments. I’m halfway through now and though I had a few doubts at first, I’m really getting in to the story now and liking it a lot.

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The main book I’m reading devouring now is ‘Knight’s Shadow’. It’s a book I’d eagerly been looking forward to. I hadn’t expected it to be such a massive book! I started it the day before yesterday and it’s tons of fun. I’ve enjoyed every page so far.

 

 

 

 

Movies and Series

I haven’t been able to see any Fantasy/SciFi movies since I moved, but I’ve been watching plenty of series. I’m now at season 4 of Merlin and still really, really liking it. The dynamic between Bradley James and Colin Morgan is just brilliant.

 

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Next to that I’ve also been enjoying the newest episodes of Arrow and The Flash. I had a bit of a loss of interest when it came to The Flash, but I’ve watched all the episodes I missed so far and I’m now up to speed again. The last few episodes were very good and Arrow, as always, doesn’t disappoint either.

 

 

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Another series, one that doesn’t really fit in to the whole SFF genre that I usually post about, but one I’d like to mention because it’s JUST THAT GOOD, is ‘How To Get Away With Murder’. Finally a series that can make me gasp in disbelief every single episode and that is so compelling I literally can’t wait for the next Thursday to come fast enough. The season finale last Thursday was fantastic and they kept me guessing until the very end about the identity of the murderer. The last shocking twist almost made me fall off my chair. Now we’ll have to wait 6 months for new episodes. The agony!

 

Then there’s this:

The first official trailer for Season 3 of Orphan Black! I literally bingewatched this series last year and I’m absolutely stoked that the 3rd season is almost here. They’ve been teasing us with short scenes and clips like the “This Is War” one, but now it’s time for the full blown trailer. The final count down to the 18th of April can now officially begin.

Posts in February

Cover Reveal: ‘The Rebirths of Tao’ by Wesley Chu

Another exciting book that hits shelves the 2nd of April in the UK and the 7th of April in the US is ‘The Rebirths of Tao’, the 3rd book in Wesley Chu’s Lives of Tao series. The cover for this book has just been revealed and it will look smashing next to the other two books in the series!

The cover was created by Stewart Larking and Bruce Hogarth:

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About the book

Many years have passed since the events in The Deaths of Tao: the world is split into pro-Prophus and pro-Genjix factions, and is poised on the edge of a devastating new World War; the Prophus are hiding; and Roen has a family to take care of.

A Genjix scientist who defects to the other side holds the key to preventing bloodshed on an almost unimaginable scale.

With the might of the Genjix in active pursuit, Roen is the only person who can help him save the world, and the Quasing race, too.

And you thought you were having a stressful day…

You can pre-order the book from Amazon, The Book Depository, Barnes and Noble and IndieBound!

 

About the author

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Wesley Chu’s best friend is Michael Jordan, assuming that best friend status is earned by a shared television commercial. If not, then his best friend is his dog Eva who he can often be seen riding like a trusty steed through the windy streets of Chicago.

Unfortunately, Chu’s goals of using Hanes underwear commercials to launch a lucrative career following in Marky Mark’s footsteps came to naught. Despite phenomenal hair and manicured eyebrows, his inability to turn left led his destiny down another road. Instead of creating new realities with his skills as a thespian, Chu would dazzle audiences with his pen. Well, it’s a computer really, but the whole technology thing really sucks for metaphors. He had spirit fingers maybe?

In 2014, Wesley Chu was shortlisted for the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award. Chu’s debut novel from Angry Robot Books, The Lives of Tao, earned him a Young Adult Library Services Association Alex Award and a Science Fiction Goodreads Choice Award Finalist slot. The sequel, The Deaths of Tao, continues the story of secret agent Roen Tan and his sarcastic telepathically bonded alien, Tao.

Chu is currently working on the third book in the Tao series, The Rebirths of Tao, due out later this year. He’s also recently finished the first draft of a new novel from Tor Books called Time Salvagers, featuring an energy stealing time traveler with addiction issues.

Cannonbridge – Jonathan Barnes

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Release date: February 10th, 2015
Publisher: Solaris
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 272
Format: e-book
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Something has gone wrong with history in this gripping novel about a lie planted among the greatest works of English fiction.

Flamboyant, charismatic Matthew Cannonbridge was touched by genius, the most influential creative mind of the 19th century, a prolific novelist, accomplished playwright, the poet of his generation. The only problem is, he should never have existed and beleaguered, provincial, recently-divorced 21st Century don Toby Judd is the only person to realise something has gone wrong with history. 

All the world was Cannonbridge’s and he possessed, seemingly, the ability to be everywhere at once. Cannonbridge was there that night by Lake Geneva when conversation between Byron, Shelley and Mary Godwin turned to stories of horror and the supernatural. He was sole ally, confidante and friend to the young Dickens as Charles laboured without respite in the blacking factory. He was the only man of standing and renown to regularly visit Oscar Wilde in prison. Tennyson’s drinking companion, Kipling’s best friend, Robert Louis Stevenson’s counsellor and guide – Cannonbridge’s extraordinary life and career spanned a century, earning him a richly-deserved place in the English canon. 

But as bibliophiles everywhere prepare to toast the bicentenary of the publication of Cannonbridge’s most celebrated work, Judd’s discovery will lead him on a breakneck chase across the English canon and countryside, to the realisation that the spectre of Matthew Cannonbridge, planted so seamlessly into the heart of the 19th Century, might not be so dead and buried after all…

Review:

‘Cannonbridge’ is one of those few books that demand a lot of thinking and are still very compelling. It tells the tale about Dr. Toby Judd, a man whose life crashes and burns around him at the very beginning of the book. In his state of mental instability he starts obsessing about Matthew Cannonbridge, one of the most famous authors in English history. Dr. Judd has a feeling that something isn’t right about his work. Something just doesn’t fit. When he decides to investigate the infamous author, he stumbles across a lot of mystery, death and secrecy. He makes it his mission to find out what is going on with Cannonbridge and what secret is so important that people would kill for it.

I loved the writing; it had sometimes bordering poetic or lyrical. It might be a bit too much for some people, but for me personally it really fit the story rather well. A large part of this book focusses on authors of the 19th Century in England and this writing style seemed to fortify the feeling of that age and that subject.

The story jumps from present to past, with the flashbacks showing famous English authors at a certain point in their life. Each and every one meets Cannonbridge and we can see the evolution of Cannonbridge’s character through these flashback. The man who started out as a polite, benign stranger ends up a weird and threatening man.
It was very interesting to have these flashbacks to other famous English authors. Most of them I knew (Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens…), but some I had never heard of. It was fascinating to take a look online to find out about their background and the works they wrote. It helped me understand their parts in the story better.

The fantastical aspect to the story only became apparent later on in the book, but it intrigued me. It’s not something that’s easy to wrap your head around and it demands quite a lot of imagination. I thought it was very imaginative and original and I loved finding out how everything really worked. It still remains very complicated and though that has it’s charm, it might take away some of the punch, the impact of the big reveal.

Our main character Dr. Judd is that kind of character I like to read about. Very flawed, with a life in tatters. Smart, but still baffled by what he encounters during his journey to find out more about Cannonbridge. There are a few secondary characters that didn’t really leave that much of an impression, but still kept the story going and most of the times also gave the main character the means or the incentive to go on with his investigation.

The very end is heart wrenching, but somehow I’d felt it coming. I’m a bit disappointed that it was this transparent; it could have really been a shocker to end the book with. It’s also interesting to think what this will do in the future to the main character, how he will cope with it. Interesting, but like I said, you could see it coming from miles away.

I ultimately really liked this book; the mystery was tangible throughout the entire book, only revealing the full extent of the scheme towards the end. I could never entirely guess what was going on and I absolutely love it when a book can keep me in the dark like that. It maybe has its flaws and it won’t appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed reading ‘Cannonbridge’ very much.

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