Gleam – The Factory Trilogy #1 – Tom Fletcher
The gargantuan Factory of Gleam is an ancient, hulking edifice of stone, metal and glass ruled over by chaste alchemists and astronomer priests.
As millennia have passed, the population has decreased, and now only 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.
Clever, arrogant, and perpetually angry, Wild Alan is both loved and loathed by the Discard’s misfits. He’s convinced that the Gleam authorities were behind the disaster that killed his parents and his ambition is to prove it. But he’s about to uncover more than he bargained for.
This book turned out to be something completely different than what I expected. ‘Gleam’ is a fascinating story about a world with two extreme, opposing sides. The Discard is a place of chaos, survival, crime and violence, but a place where everyone makes their own choices. The Pyramid is a highly controlled structure, where people live a comfortable life, but aren’t allowed to step out of line or ask questions. Tom made a richly described new world to get lost in and it’s one you’ve never read before. He also made some interesting choices for his characters.
Alan is a husband and father, living in the Pyramid, who can’t forget his past in the Discard. He sings songs about it in the Pyramid and he still has some connection with people living in the Discard. Of course this isn’t tolerated by the Arbitrators, a sort of law enforcement of the Pyramid, and when punishing him doesn’t seem to work, they start to punish his family. At this point Alan and his wife decide that it is better if Alan leaves and goes back to the Discard, to protect his family. If you thought after reading this that this is a story about a caring man fighting to get his family and his honour back, think again. Alan isn’t at all a hero or a handsome, fierce knight on a quest. Once Alan survives the first few weeks in the Discard, he literally becomes Wild Alan, the nickname they had given him in the Pyramid. Screwing another woman every few days, addicted to mushrooms and alcohol and only just getting by thanks to his music. Alan is actually a pretty pathetic character for the first half of the book, but that’s what makes him so interesting. It’s realistic, very human and it’s refreshing to read about a character that’s flawed and not ultimately a hero or anti-hero. He’s just a guy, trying to see his son and trying to survive. When he has to choose between running to save his live or help others to save theirs, he’ll probably choose the former.
The other characters all have their own flaws and some strengths to add to the strange party that leaves to travel to Dok, where they will try to get hold of a special kind of mushrooms. At least, that’s what Alan thinks. As it turns out, each one of them has its own agenda. Except for Spider maybe, who is quite a nice guy. A tattoo artist and part of Alan’s band, he accompanies his friend and sticks with him through the entire journey. The third person in their band, Eyes, a guy tortured by the Pyramidders and now living life without eyelids and a bad case of the shudders, goes along with a whole other plan in mind. Churr, a transient, with a rather fierce personality comes along in the hopes she can overthrow the ruling Mushroom Queen, Daunt, and take her place. She also provides a Mapmaker, who are notorious in the Discard for their fighting skills and their lack of scruple.
The defining moment when I realised that Tom’s writing was really pulling me in to the story was the bloodletting scene at the very beginning of the book. I’m not a big fan of needles. Needles being poked in the veins in my arm or hand make me squeamish. Seeing the blood flowing out of my body doesn’t help either. My doctor told me to describe all the fish in his fish tank whenever I needed to come in for blood when I was a little girl, to distract me. I still do that. I’ve seen a plethora of fish in that office. When I read that bloodletting scene I was literally squirming in my seat. I could feel that needle, the blood leaving Alan’s body. Brrrr.
The Discard is a highly complex and fascinating place where people live rather crudely. Alan discovers whole new parts of the Discard in his quest to find the mushrooms he can use to bribe the Arbitrators with. Some things Tom described really made me shudder, like the way he detailed a woman eating a raw slug, shell and all. Yuck. The swamp was another weird experience all on its own, I could almost smell the pungent stench of rotten things. Once they get to the Dok, another whole new world opens up. It seems the Discard is just full of new things to discover, certainly not all nice and fluffy, but all very interesting.
We only get a brief view of the Pyramid and this as well is full of mystery. Nobody really knows what they’re working for or why they have to go to the bloodlettings, but they live a comfortable life and they don’t know any better. Every aspect of their life is however strictly controlled and Alan, who has experienced a different kind of life, just can’t adjust.
Alan was taken to the Pyramid after the Arbitrators slaughtered everyone in the little town he lived in, including his parents. For a huge part of the story we know only that this fuels Alan’s hate for the Pyramid, but we don’t know any details. Later on certain things are revealed that throw a whole new perspective on the story you’ve been reading so far. I always enjoy twists like that, shedding a new light on the story, making you think about what happened so far.
Not all of the mysteries of the Pyramid and the Discard are solved at the end of the book, there are still many things that I’m curious about and that make me eager to read the rest of the books in this trilogy. Where did the Discard and the Pyramid come from? We know that the people living in the Discard now call the people who built everything ‘The Builders’ and there are strange things in de landscape that hint at a forgotten past. What is the bloodletting for and what is the purpose of the work the Pyramidders do every day? And most of all: what will happen after the events on the last pages of the book? Exciting!
In need of an original, imaginative, kind of weird story to lose yourself in to? Than ‘Gleam’ is something for you! Welcome to the world of mushrooms, swamps, slugs and blood craving creatures.