Sunday 29 November 2009

Review: Pastworld by Ian Beck

Pastworld. A city within a city. A city for excursions and outings. Pastworld is a theme park with a difference, where travellers can travel back in time for a brush with an authentic Victorian past. But what if the Jack the Ripper figure stopped play-acting and really started killing people? For Caleb, a tourist from the present day, his visit goes terribly wrong when his father is kidnapped and he finds himself accused of murder. Then Caleb meets Eva Rose, a Pastworld inhabitant who has no idea the modern world exists. Both Caleb and Eva have roles to play in the murderer's diabolical plans - roles that reveal disturbing truths about their origins.

I liken this book to an 80s Arnold Swarzenneger action movie - I liked it, but felt guilty for liking it because of its faults. However, like any good teacher I always prefer to start with the positives, the biggest of which is the premise for this book - turning London into a glorified Victorian theme park is a stroke of genius. Not only that, but the descriptive writing about the city is very good as well. Ian Beck is obviously a fan of Dickens, Holmes and general Victoriana; either that or he has researched his subject very well as his writing about the Victorian London environment and its inhabitants seems pretty accurate, and the detail he goes into means you are easily able to visualise being there yourself. 

And so....onto the book's faults. Firstly, I am still not sure who is supposed to be the main character in the story - is it Eve or is it Caleb? Eve is introduced first, but all of her main scenes are written in the first person in the form of her journal, and even then these scenes are pretty thin on the ground. So is it then Caleb, who doesn't even appear in the story until Chapter 8? Certainly his scenes are written in much greater detail, and most of the action set-pieces centre around him. Mr Beck also changes the character point of view regularly throughout the story..... at one point we're with Caleb, then the Artful Dodger-esque Bible J, then Inspector Lestrade, then the merciless villain known as the Fantom. Sometimes these changes between characters occur at the end of chapters, or with spaced breaks within chapters, but this wasn't always so fluid in the build up to the story's climax - something that may confuse younger readers.

I am also not entirely sure of the age group this book is aimed at. The twist in the plot is fairly obvious for older readers, but some parents may not be happy with the level of violence within the story where younger readers are concerned.

Faults aside, as i have already said, I enjoyed reading this,in fact I struggled to put it down in the last 100 pages, and Mr Beck has left it open for a sequel; hopefully we will see further development of the main characters when this is written.


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