Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review: Pastworld by Ian Beck

                                                              Pastworld by Ian Beck
Science Fiction , 355 pages 
Publsihed 2009 by Bloomsbury

It was the cover that grabbed my attention. This cover is possibly the best one that I have seen all year. With the foggy, cobblestone lane, gas lamps, Saint Paul's Cathedral looming at the back, the two mysterious figures, the metallic font and catchy hook, how could I possibly look away?  
If the cover hooked me, the blurb reeled me in faster then the speed of sound. I thought it sounded incredible. A Dystopian thriller set in a theme-park version of Victorian London? Yes please! 
I had purchased the book within seconds, and couldn't wait to start.  I had massive expectations... 
...But I was incredibly disappointed. 

The plot in a nutshell: The year is 2048 and London has been demolished. In its place stands  Pastworld, 'the greatest theme park ever invented'. It is a perfect recreation of Victorian London, full of gas lamps, gothic architecture, beggars, waistcoats, traveling circus's and even The Fantom-a mass murderer much like Jack the Ripper. 
Caleb is a tourist visiting Pastworld, but soon his father is kidnapped and Caleb is charged with murder, so he is forced to run, and soon befriends a street-kid, Bible J.  
Eve is a local resident at Pastworld, but when she realizes The Fantom is stalking her-hunting her for an unknown reason, she runs away, and is taken in by a group of Traveling Players. 
The Fantom continues his bloody murders, intent on finding both Eve-and Caleb. Together, with the help of Bible J and Detectives from the Modern World, they must stop The Fantom, before he stops them. 
The dark secrets of the present, are living in the past... 

I was incredibly disappointed by Pastworld. There are so many aspects that I can criticize, I barely know where to start. 
1) The characters. I found no emotional connection with any of them what-so-ever. I could not care less for Caleb, Eve, Bible J, Lestrade or any of the other detectives that could easily have been merged into one character. The dialogue from them all was raw and wooden. I could not understand the motives behind any of their actions, and when important actions were taken-there was no emotional detail or thought to proceed/follow it. 
The author didnt even give a clear reason as to why The Fantom kills and mutilates. 
2) Detail. This is probably what I was most disappointed about. I wanted lots of juicy detail-fantastic imagery-of the Victorian streets. I wanted a clear picture of the old houses, police stations, cobblestone lanes. Whilst reading certain scenes, I couldn't help thinking: I bet I could write this better. 
Also, I wanted more information about the outside world. What is the year 2048 like? What has changed? In this book's 350 pages, we only get a few lines about the outside-world. We are barely even given a reason 'the real London' no longer exists.  
I was-and still am-incredibly annoyed about this lack of imagery inside and outside Pastworld. 
However, I must make a tiny exception to the scenes in the forest. That was described well-but improvement can still be made.  
3) The characters relationships. Okay, so two characters fall in love (its not the obvious guess as to who they are, either), but I can see no reason and meaning behind their feelings for each other. 
They only share a few private conversations, and talk about nothing meaningful. Just things like: The name of a horse, or: commenting on the tourists. 
I found their relationship very hard to believe. Especially at the end, when character 1 puts his own life in danger to save character 2. 
Oh, and the creepy-weird-almost disturbing-almost sexual-awkward scene between another two characters. Again, they barely (if ever) spoke to one another before they were alone together. That scene was NOT romantic. It read like something out of Twilight. For those of you who have read the book, you know which scene I am talking about. For those of you who havent, it is a few pages towards the end when character 1 asks character 2 to put his hands around her neck, and hold them there, then she puts her hands flat on his face. 
Not romantic. Or sweet, at all. 
4) The climax. Okay, so credit to Ian Beck, he paced the last half of this book well, and I kind of enjoyed the climax (And build up). The last ten pages are full-throttle action scenes, and the final fight takes place on the roof of the only modern building left in Pastworld, "Tower 42" only minutes from its demolition.  
Firstly, I would much rather have seen the final battle on top of The Gherkin,  a much cooler,  bullet shaped glass sky-scraper just around the corner (but thats personal preference). 
Secondly, Beck doesn't even describe the buildings appearance once, which made the scene hard to imagine, since I didnt know what Tower 42 looks like. 
Thirdly, there way WAY to many characters involved. I lost track of who was (and wasnt) there, what each character was doing and where they were. 

Having said all this, some parts of the novel were enjoyable, and I can possibly see a movie in the future. Ian Beck leaves a fairly open ending, and a sequel is possible. If this is the case, I will still read it, though I will do so reluctantly, and hoping that Beck redeems himself. 
Would I recommend it?
Maybe. There is no reason not to do so, but there is nothing that makes me want to shout out and force people to read this book. 
All in all, this was a wasted opportunity. A marvelous idea with a poor execution.

Final Mark (Out of five:)

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