I’m going to dig out a reviewer’s cliché and hang the “stunning debut novel” tag on this one; aside from the cover (and that’s just a matter of taste), the book hits just about every mark, straight out the gate.
The story is set in the far future, where mankind has abandoned Earth and spread like a incurable virus across the galaxy. Humanity has cracked the whole interstellar travel thing – almost. Ships can cover great distances in relavatively short timespans; I say “relative” because a few months travelling in space for the crew translates into years for the planets at either end of the ship’s destination.
This is beautifully illustrated in the first few chapters when we get to eavesdrop on the relationship between a farmer and a freighter captain. For the captain, it’s a few months between stopovers. For the farmer, it’s fifteen years.
They (whoever ‘they’ are) often say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, as it turns out, you can. The cover for The Chosen and the Beautiful promises a story of magic, glamour and decadence set between between the two great wars … and the book pretty much delivers.
Meet the sometimes-heroine of our story, Jordan Baker: taken from Vietnam as a child and raised by the old-money Baker clan as something of a socialite (that seems to be her actual job).
Jordan enjoys wealth, a wide circle of friends of both sexes whom she dances, drinks and sleeps with as the mood takes her. She plays golf (no wait, maybe that’s her actual job …) and occasionally dabbles in magic: Jordan has the ability to bring paper cuttings to like. She’s not very good at it – she crosses paths with other Vietnamese who’re a lot better at it. Still, she uses her ability to dig herself and her sometimes friend/sometimes lover Daisy out of situations that are not necessarily dangerous, but could have made their social standing somewhat precarious.
The turning point in Jordan’s story happens when she is sucked into the orbit of Jay Gatsby (yes, that Jay Gatsby) as he attempts to lure Daisy away from her dick of a husband, Tom …
I read this one because Bernadine Evaristo raved about it in a tweet a few weeks back, and I think she knows a good book when she’s it. Aside from that, I bloody loved the idea.
The Red Children is set in a future Britain where a pandemic (another one) has put a significant dent in the male population, and racism is seeing a resurgence (so when I say ‘future’, I probably mean ‘Monday week’).
The coastal town of Ramsgate struggles about its business in the slightly dystopian future; most of the people are decent and grieving, others are dipping a tentative toe into far-right wing nationalism.
And into this once-idyllic village come the Red People: refugees from an ecological disaster who just happen to be Neanderthals. …