This is Kelly’s best novel so far.
If you preferred The Poison Tree to The Sick Rose then you’ll probably like this. If you’ve never read anything by Erin Kelly then this is the one to read.
The characters in The Burning Air show a return to the type of damaged yet vulnerable characters that we met in The Poison Tree, occupying a grey area of moral ambiguity, neither entirely good nor entirely bad. Many of the characters do bad things for what they believe are good reasons, even if we can see that their reasoning has been damaged by the events that have shaped them. I have read some reviews that claim that the characters are one dimensional and do not develop. I find it hard to understand how anybody could come to this conclusion. So much of the book is about character and the way its development can be nurtured or stilted by those around us.
The story essentially revolves around two families, the MacBrides and the Kellaways. The MacBrides are wealthy and privileged whereas the Kellaways, although perhaps intellectually equal and from a similar background, are a single mother, her son and a distant relative who live on the edge of poverty. Throughout the story there are parallels between the two families that raise questions about the nature of entitlement and how privilege effects society’s perception of it.
It has been a long time since I have read a novel that really made me think but this did, and it is quite a good plot too!
This is a book that grew on me the further into it I got. The author demonstrates a fluid, intelligent writing style and I considered it to be very well written.
It is very much a plot driven story with only brief descriptions of the characters and their surroundings, rather than paragraphs devoted to a single mountain. This isn’t literary fiction; the focus is on the action. Neverthless, the main character is likeable and believable and there are some hints towards the end of the story of character/life developments in later books. However, at 118 pages, it is quite short and I think that there was room for developing some of the relationships and allowing the reader to get to know some of the lesser characters. The plot itself is well constructed and, although slow to start, carries itself through to a plausible and satisfying conclusion, albeit one that leaves the way open for a sequel.
At times, I found myself having to delve deep into my memory to recall the meaning of some of the specifically Scottish tribal terms used or the historical/social significance of piece of the text and I think, without a basic understanding of Scottish history and tribal traditions a reader might find some parts difficult to understand and enjoy, particularly with regard to the meaning of some of the ancient titles and social positions. There is a very brief explanation at the end of the book (which I think would be more useful at the beginning) but I think that a few in text notes would be more helpful.
Apart from that, my only other criticism is regarding the front cover, which seems too modern for the story and would ordinarily have put me off.
An Unexpected Ending
Set in the (hopefully) distant future when Earth has long since disappeared into the sun and what is left of its inhabitants have colonised the remaining planets of the solar system. The main character, having been born and grown up on Titan, is now living and working in the rapidly disintegrating settlement of Olympia on Mars. Working for the Government, his job is to dispose of the City’s undesirables.
This is an easy story to read in a single sitting. It moves on quickly and the style of writing is quite captivating. There is a good balance between action and description with neither seeming to be lacking. I had to re-read parts of it to work out how this was achieved and I think the main reason is that all of the description is very carefully chosen to heighten the tension.
There were a couple of places where I felt that the elements of the plot were a little overstated (i.e. the reader is told after having already worked it out for themselves) but they are so minor that I don’t think they detract from the entertainment value at all.
The story didn’t end as I had wanted it to but it was certainly quite powerful nevertheless.
I liked it. A good way to spend an evening.
A dark collection of short stories.
The characters in each of these short stories are almost tangible. Like real people, all of them are flawed in some way, even the good ones. Conversely, in the same way that in real life nobody is all bad, even the ‘bad’ characters have a trace of good. These elements of personality are trickled to us in such a subtle way that our reaction to them is shaped almost without our awareness. You will probably neither love nor loathe any of the characters but you will certainly feel something about them because they seem so real.
As far as the narrative is concerned, each story is written in the distinctive voice of one (or, in the last story, two) of the characters. Narvaez seems to completely step into these characters so that the narrative seems authentic and the style of each one different. Each story has a different and interesting premise and many of them cause the reader to question their own assumptions about the black and white distinction between good and bad. There are a couple of great twist endings as well.
On the whole this collection is well worth reading. I’ll certainly be watching out for any more titles from Narvaez.
R Narvaez is a talented writer and one to watch out for.
I thought I’d post a few of my reviews of books by other indie authors. Starting off with Extinction Point by Paul Antony Jones.
This is an interesting take on the ‘end of the world as we know it’ type of novel, not least of all because the main character, and sole survivor of the ‘red rain’, is a young woman.
Emily Baxter is working as a journalist in New York when a strange, blood-like rain begins to sweep across the globe. It becomes apparent that the rain is more than it seems as, in its wake, whole nations of people succumb to a terrible virus that attacks suddenly, violently and fatally. When the virus reaches New York, Emily waits for her own inevitable demise but when it doesn’t come she realises that she is probably the only survivor in the whole city, if not the world. Extinction Point tracks Emily’s progress as she tries to adjust to living in a world devoid of life and then her struggle for survival and escape as a new world begins to emerge from the destruction of the old.
The character of Emily is easy to like with a dry humour and unswerving practicality. She strikes a good balance between femininity and toughness, giving us a sense of an ordinary woman who finds herself having to toughen up to survive. Although there are no other characters for most of the story. Paul Jones gives us enough little glimpses into the characters of the minor players in the build up to the red rain to make us truly sorry for their fate.
The action is well written and the moments of tension really do have you on the edge of your seat. My one little grumble is that there is a lot of unnecessary narrative. Unless you know Manhattan, the detailed routes that Emily takes on her journeys through the city are fairly meaningless. Paul Jones shows himself throughout to be a competent writer with a knack for building suspense.
On the whole, a darned good read, although slightly annoying to only find out at the end that it is just the first in a series of books so we don’t really get a proper resolution. However, the second in the series is a work in progress and you can check for updates on Paul’s website where there is even a mailing list so that you can find out as soon as it’s released.