Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Review: The Liberators by Philip Womack
On his first trip to London to stay with his glamorous aunt and uncle for Christmas, Ivo Moncrieff steps off the train and stumbles into a nightmare. As he is waiting on the tube platform, a stranger thrusts a mysterious object into his hand, desperately muttering some unfamiliar words to him. On-board the tube moments later, the carriage next to Ivo's is overcome with panic and when they enter the next station the passengers disembark to find that the stranger's body has been brutally dismembered. Ivo guesses that the perpetrators must want the object, and if they find out he has it, he will be their next target. But the attack on the tube is part of a larger scheme to bring chaos to the heart of London. As the capital seems in danger of sliding into anarchy, Ivo faces a race against time to break the ancient power of the Liberators, a power that has lain dormant for centuries but now threatens to destroy society itself.
I have made no secret of the fact that I am a big fan of fantasy stories set in London, so I was very excited when this book arrived from the nice people at Bloomsbury. However, I ended up being a little disappointed on reading this book. This was not through any fault on the author's part, only because London is merely the setting and, unlike other books (e.g. Stoneheart Trilogy, Neverwhere, A Madness of Angels) the city has not been imagined in any other way. I hasten to add that this was the only cause of disappointment for me as I otherwise really enjoyed reading this excellent story.
In The Liberators, Mr Womack has written a fast-paced thriller, with a very contemporary feel, but with a supernatural undercurrent of ancient evil ready and waiting to be fully awakened to take over our society. He combines the modern-day concerns of the current financial crisis and the paranoia and fears surrounding terrorist attacks, with elements of ancient mythology and in doing so has created an original story that looks at what it means to be truly free and demonstrates how such freedom, however desirable it may initially seem, could rapidly deteriorate into total anarchy and ultimately the destruction of a civilized society.
Ivo is a typical reluctant hero. He is an innocent boy, sucked into events that are initially way beyond his comprehension. How is it a whole train carriage of passengers can suddenly be overtaken by mass hysteria? How can a man in the next carriage be totally dismembered, yet no-one remembers seeing what happened? What is the plain looking object that this man so hastily passed to Ivo just minutes before his gruesome demise? Fortunately, Ivo has the help of two other young people to help him get to the bottom of this mystery, but even this help comes at a cost, as a result of the temptations laid before them in the story. Mr Womack does an admirable job of developing Ivo's character, and we are able to understand and associate with all the decisions he makes throughout the story. Although as secondary characters his new friends are not so well developed, their actions and reactions are also, on the whole, realistic.
Mr Womack has also created a pair of particularly nasty villains, the Liberators of the book's title. One of the reasons they are so evil is that, much like when Edmund first meets the Ice Queen in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, they are offering something incredibly desirable - in this case freedom from all worldly cares and the moral constraints that bind us. In fact, in the early stages of the book I even found myself wondering why people known as Liberators were actually the villains of the book. However, as Ivo discovers more about their true nature and the dangers of hedonism, so does the reader begin to realise that however tempting such a concept is, it is also the very thing that can bring down a society.
I found The Liberators to be a fast-paced, exciting read. Although Mr Womack's use of language is very accomplished and pleasurable to read, I would suggest that it is at a level that would be most appropriate for 10-13 year olds. However, confident younger readers will enjoy it, and although they may find the language a little below them at times older readers will also be able to engage with it on a slightly higher level due to its intelligent new look at the battle between good and evil.
The Liberators is published by Bloomsbury and is due to be in stores on 1st February 2010.