3 out of 4 stars
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If society as you knew it had to end, how would you choose to go? Zombies? Mysterious diseases that attack the reproductive system?
When I’d read Matthew Tysz’s The Last City of America both these options sounded good. Reading The Turn, I do have to wonder if this book doesn’t present a much more interesting option.
Here, Tysz presents a world left in the lurch after madness destroys it. No one knows what the Turn was or what caused it, only that there was mass destruction and death. In its wake Ashley, Scholar and Cattleprod try to survive in a time both familiar and not.
One wants to find a reason for the Turn to have happened in the first place. Another wants to reclaim the person he had been before. The third? Well, he wants to take control of something that remains unpredictable.
Originating in the 1800s, post-apocalyptic dystopias are a dime a dozen now. Yet Tysz is becoming a favourite author of mine. The Turn may be bleak, but there’s a hope that runs through it, as with Last City, but even more so than its predecessor.
It's because of the characters. They’re well-written and complex in a way that I don’t often expect men who throw words like “retard” around to be. The author has a skill for this, as no one is completely likeable or not. Rather, they’re people with desires and needs that they seek but never fulfil.
That’s not to say that the characters are perfect.
Cattleprod, for example, doesn’t have slaves of his own, but there’s showmanship in his use of the slave trade in his pursuit of power. It’s ironic, too, that his favourite “product” is children, given that he was a teacher before the Turn. This makes him one of the villains but he's so affable and charming that you root for him anyway.
Ashley and Scholar are also notable in this instance for their own complexities. One is a former Wall Street darling and the other is a recluse. Neither of these men are heroes but the story guides them into this role the closer to the end you get. Ashley goes from selfish to being somewhat compassionate while Scholar no longer hides away from the world. The resultant dynamic is entertaining and poignant, both characters complementing each other as well as they frustrate each other.
That’s not to say that the novel is perfect either. Reading it is a fruitless pursuit of satisfaction that doesn’t exist. Given that, according to Tysz’s author note, it’s the starting point for the sequel’s events, this can be forgiven. The narrative flows towards a point that acts as a catalyst, but the reader isn’t privy to the fallout. That’s left to the succeeding books, almost as if Tysz is daring his audience to continue.
The book could also use some more editing. While it is readable, there are a lot of poor comma usage and sentence fragments that aren’t part of the author’s style. They aren’t distracting unless one is looking for them, but there are too many for me not to make a note of them.
The Turn is interesting. It’s a take on the apocalypse that delves into the effects of madness turned reality. Characters are real and very flawed, with agendas of their own to fulfil that the story reflects.
I wouldn’t say it's edgy but it’s dark enough that readers should be wary. If I could, I’d give it three and half stars, both due to the mistakes and the unsatisfying end. Yet, the flaws don’t detract from the book and there’s a lot more to it than just the sum of its parts. As such, I’m willing to give it 3 out of 4 stars.
I’d warn readers about mild sexual content, swearing and references to modern slavery. I believe science fiction readers will not have an issue with this, but others may. With that in mind, I'd recommend it to science fiction fans first and all else after.
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