I’m sure most of us here remember or have heard of The Girl With All of the Gifts. It is sci-fi/post-apocalyptic novel with action, surprises, heart-warming moments, and it gives a lot of food for thought with its themes. The author’s next novel, Fellside, is more of a mystery/thriller with a touch of fantasy.
Fellside is a maximum security women’s prison in the Yorkshire Moors. Jess Moulson finds herself heading toward the prison after an intentionally-set inferno consumed her apartment, killing a child in the flat above her. Jess has no memory of the fire, and she would have never killed Alex, the child from upstairs that she had befriended. With no memory and no grounds to defend herself, Jess goes to Fellside where she encounters a drug ring, tough and troubled convicts looking for a fight, rampant corruption, and a familiar ghost.
I was completely on board with the tone and pace of this novel, at least during the first half. It is creepy, you are unsure of what is going on, and we start becoming close to the main character who has an unreliable memory. However, I have heard that many readers found the pace of Fellside slow, and I can at least see why. The book begins after the tragic fire, so we know how the biggest plot point turns out, but we spend the rest of the novel rather slowly finding out how it all happened. The novel also focuses on some other subplots related to the prison staff and inmates, but they lack the same emotional pull as the mystery of how/who started the fire and killed Alex. The prison subplots have been done before– corruption, drug rings, prison riots and fights– so I wish there was more focus on Jess’s personal mystery because that felt more unique and interesting.
Although Jess is our main character, there are several chapters that center on other characters within the prison. These chapters usually move the prison-related plots forward, so I found myself wanting more of Jess’s chapters instead. In fact, you could probably completely remove several of the side character chapters without impacting the overall plot much, but it would speed up the book and make it more focused on Jess and the fire. I know it probably sounds like I hated the subplots (I didn’t), but they made the book less unique, they slowed it down, and they took focus away from Jess and her troubles, which was what hooked me to begin with. Add to that, when we do figure out everything about Jess, the ghost, and the fire, I ended up pretty disappointed. Also, I mentioned that there is some fantastical element to the novel. This element is not clearly explained in the way it works, its limitations, and who can use it and why. Some readers won’t care that it isn’t clearly defined, but I know other readers who are more strict about magic systems. I am usually OK with a lot being open to interpretation, but even I wanted a clearer explanation of what was going on. Because things were a little muddled in how they were described, the scenes taking place on other planes of existence felt cheesy and unrealistic, which clashed with how dark and serious the “real world” issues had become by the ending.
I had high hopes for this one, but it was a slight disappointment. M. R. Carey can certainly write, and he has some very unique plot ideas. I am still interested to read more from this author, but this novel wasn’t quite as strong. I gave it a three out of five stars.