Review: The Double-Edged Sword by Sarah Silverwood
'Sixteen's an interesting age: not quite a fully grown man, but not a kid anymore neither. Anything is possible when you're sixteen.' Finmere Tingewick Smith was abandoned on the steps of the Old Bailey. Under the guardianship of the austere Judge Harlequin Brown and the elderly gentlemen of Orrery House, Fin has grown up under a very strange set of rules. He spends alternate years at two very different schools and now he's tired of the constant lies to even his best friends, to hide the insanity of his double life. Neither would believe the truth! But on his sixteenth birthday, everything changes. The Judge is killed, stabbed in the chest with a double-edged sword that's disturbingly familiar, and from that moment on, Fin is catapulted into an extraordinary adventure. Through the Doorway in Fin's London, a hole in the boundaries of Existence, lies another London -- and now both are in grave danger. For the Knights of Nowhere have kidnapped the Storyholder, the keeper of the Five Eternal Stories which weave the worlds together. Because of the Knights' actions, a black storm is coming, bringing madness with it. Fin may be just 16, but he has a long, dark journey ahead of him if he is to rescue the Storyholder and save Existence!
Fan of Young Adult fantasy? Heard about Fierce Fiction yet? If you answered yes to the first and no to the second question then you have a little catching up to do. Fierce Fiction is the banner under which Gollancz are promoting their new YA list, and if all the books on this list are as good as Sarah Silverwood's The Double-Edged Sword then YA fantasy fans are going to be in seventh heaven. When I say fantasy, I'm not talking orcs, elves and goblins fantasy - I'm talking high action urban fantasy (at least as far as this book I have read is concerned).
In a recent blog post for Gollancz Ms Silverwood described her books as being "... about three things that I love - London, friendship and a sense of the magical". Far be it for me, a lowly book blogger, to try to come up with a better description than the author herself - that one line sums up the story brilliantly. Well almost.... it doesn't mention the great characters, the edge-of-your-seat tension, the frenetic action scenes or the wonderful Nowhere - an alternate London that exists in a sort of parallel universe (it's hard to explain - read the book and it becomes clear as crystal).
Main character Fin's life is far from ordinary. He was discovered as a baby, in a cardboard box on the steps of London's Old Bailey. His 'rescuer', a highly respected Judge, became his guardian but along with that there came some rather bizarre decisions regarding Fin's life. Firstly, he attends two different schools, alternating between the two on an annual basis. One is an inner city comprehensive, the other an exclusive private boarding school. Every year he waits at those same steps and meets an old man called Ted, who takes him to visit the elderly gentlemen of Orrery House, the majority of whom are so far gone that they don't even seem to realise he is there. Fin has to keep all of these rules secret from his friends at both schools, and as such as found himself living a lie (or should that be lies?) for most of his life. One friends thinks Fin's father is a spy, the other believe that Fin is the son of a notorious criminal. As with all lies, eventually the truth can come out, but in this case Fin's hand is forced in a way he could never have dreamed.
Fin is a great character - readers will love the element of mystery surrounding his life that they are introduced to right from the very first page. They will question the judge's rules, just as Fin does. They will also very much feel like they are making the journey of discovery with him, every step of the way. At first I found myself frowning to myself and silently questioning a lot of the things that go on in the first third of the book. I felt confused at times, wondering if I was being a little stupid, or whether I had missed something. And then everything all started to come together, and for me this was one of the stand-out aspects of this book. Ms Silverwood does mention things as if the reader should already understand what she is talking about, and as the story progresses the reader finds more questions being unanswered, until suddenly those answers start flooding out of the story. And when these answers and plot explanations came the feeling of revelation was immense. I really felt like I was living the story with Fin and his friends.
The secondary characters are also very well imagined, especially for a book that is first in series. I occasionally find books in this position to be lacking in the development of secondary characters, as the author has to prioritise the development of the main character. However, although we are not necessarily privy to the motivations of all of the characters, we are still given a good picture of what makes them tick. The elderly gentlemen of Orrery House are a great creation - more I will not say as to do so may ruin the scenes they feature in later in the second half of the book. Obviously, the concept of an alternate London brings with it a lot of scope for imaginative and colourful characters and I got the feeling that the author had a lot of fun developing these.
Urban fantasy stories featuring an alternate London, or a London with magical elements, are not uncommon: we have Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart trilogy; Tom Becker's Darkside series; China Mieville's Un Lun Dun; and Kate Griffin's Matthew Swift series. However, with The Double-Edged Sword Sarah Silverwood brings something new to the party and very welcome it is too. For me London is one of the magical cities in the world and I love stories like this that use it has a setting. Sarah Silverwood does this in a different way to those I have already mentioned - her descriptions of Nowhere are delightful, with city's fabric being a strange mix of a multitude of eras from London past and present, and at the heart of it all the sinister fog-enveloped Thames, almost a living creature itself with the way it can 'call' to unwary passers-by, tempting them into crossing the West Minster Bridge and..........
The Double-Edged Sword is the first book of The Nowhere Chronicles and the author leaves the ending perfectly balanced - events are brought to a satisfying conclusion but we are left with enough burning questions to have us waiting hungrily for the next instalment. According to Amazon the sequel will be entitled The Traitor's Gate and book three The London Stone, to be released in April 2011 and May 2012 respectively - to say I wish it was April 2011 already would be like wishing my life away, but isn't that something we book bloggers seem to do a lot of? My thanks go to the generous people at Gollancz for sending me a copy to review; The Double-Edged Sword is available to buy right in in a hardcover edition, with a stunning dustjacket.