As plots go, it's a deceptively basic one. In the summer of 1995, at a church 'revival' meeting in North Devon (though I was picturing Glasgow for some reason), an un-named young man separates himself from the congregation to approach the minister. It quickly becomes apparent - in fact, this is the purpose of the opening chapter - that this young man is very, very angry, and the source of his anger is that he wants God to appear before him, in order to prove himself. As an incentive, the young man has rigged himself a vest of explosives and states that if God does not prove himself, he'll detonate and kill everyone in the building. What follows is seen from the perspective of a diverse group of characters who have their own varying approaches to faith.
So far, so intense.
As a first novel - or certainly a début, I have no idea how many novels Kit may have written prior to this - it is certainly impressive, both in its aspirations and its execution (although I did have some minor issues with this, but we'll get to that). By restricting the 'action' to a set of limited perspectives - interspersed with the occasional 'overhead' view - we are kept constantly on the hop as to the 'true' nature of this potential suicide bomber; this is compounded by the subtly different interpretations each character has about this individual. It also puts us, essentially, in the audience as one of the helpless congregation. And this is one of the most interesting and impressive aspects to the book; each character is vividly drawn and distinct, with believable histories and consistent behaviours. I did feel that the exposition of some of these individuals was perhaps a shade too long in places, especially at the beginning of the book, but this is a minor thing and may also have been exacerbated by a couple of personal issues I had when I started reading. You see, the book is written entirely in present tense and I have to say, I have real difficulties with this stylistic choice in a novel; this is a personal thing, by the way, and in no way am I marking the book down for it - simply saying that it needs to be a damned good story to get me fully past this. GodBomb! just about achieves this, though I did struggle a little in the early stages. Partly, this was also because the e-reader on my laptop was absolutely garbage, causing some formatting issues; chief among these was the insertion of a space between each paragraph, something I detest in books (the author assures me this is not how the final product will appear, so I can only rage at the deficiencies of Book Bazaar Reader). However, again, this is not a criticism as such and not the author's fault at all, simply an explanation for why it took me a few chapters to get into the rhythm of the story. What wasn't a formatting issue though, was the initial jump from one character to the next, following a similar template of one person being described with their internal third person voice, noticing another character and then the narrative jumping to that character. I felt that the book would have been better served had these chapters/sections been interspersed more with observances as to what the 'bomber' was up to, and indeed, this begins to happen as the book progresses.
However these are minor issues and I did find myself getting more caught up in the action as I passed the midway point. Part of this is the escalation of the terror - and the horror here is a very realistic one, rooted in similar events that we're peripherally aware of happening all over the world - and the reactions of the characters to this; part of it is the intriguing 'experiment' behind the antagonist's actions. There are also a few neat surprises which serve to keep the narrative from stagnating into the same repeating pattern. I would have liked to have had more in the vein of theological/political debate, but I accept that this isn't necessarily the point of the book. Despite the fact that the bomber is, in essence, a non-believer, and this is a situation that is not highly likely to occur (someone threatening death and violence in the absence of faith), I feel he really represents that anger that some people - believers and non-believers alike - experience with regards to a God that would seemingly allow a world to exist with the cruelty it does. Similarly, while it isn't a book railing against faith, it isn't advocating faith either. It is simply presenting a series of ideas and concepts, and allowing each individual character to arrive at their own personal interpretation of the world, which should give us, the reader, something to ponder. In effect, it's really about showing us that people can exist on different sides of a given divide and yet have similar fears and outlooks; and that empathy - or, at the very least, sympathy - should be a given, not something dependant on whether you 'relate' to someone else (this is something very close to my heart and thinking, especially where fiction is concerned). And it's also a pretty damn effective thriller/horror. In fact, coupled with the excellent design job that The Sinister Horror Company have done, I could easily see this sitting next to stuff by Christopher Brookmyre or early Ben Elton; it has a similar social/political undertone as their works, if not the sardonic, absurd humour. But hey, this book is all about the darkness.
And there are definitely some dark scenes - violence, death, the seedy desperation of human nature. There are also scenes of fragile beauty, of very human pain and suffering. In fact, it felt as though the book were more a series of short episodes, tied loosely with an overarching narrative; a narrative that I felt should have been just a shade more to the fore, a touch more authoritative with regards to the momentum of the novel. It's not a massive problem, it just brings the book down a couple of tiny notches for me.
Still, as I say, an impressive début and one which shows that Kit absolutely knows how to write. The sentence structure is superb, for the most part, and even a few awkward phrases here and there, and the slight overuse - in my view - of long, run-on sentences in block paragraphs, do little to diminish someone who clearly has a very good grasp of poetic prose and word choice.
So, whilst it's not quite up there in my estimation with the very best of works - and really, that's not a criticism at all, very little is - it's still a solid piece of work which is ambitious and actually has a few things to say. I'll be very, very interested to see what Kit does next.
Read our interview with Kit Power here
Disclaimer: I'm not normally one for adding a disclaimer to my reviews. Most folk that know me, know that I am scrupulously honest in the reviews I write (not to mention when I've been asked to look at early draft stories by friends and colleagues), and though I try not to phrase anything in a way that's too negative or cutting - at least, I hope I don't and I don't intend to - I also don't shy away from giving my honest opinion. I also think using a disclaimer can be seen as a 'protest too much' kind of thing, in that some folk might wonder why you're being so adamant; not that their opinion is necessarily justified, but it's how the human mind works (or maybe that's just mine...). However, when it's someone I consider a close friend, I feel it's absolutely incumbent of me to declare that, and to also reiterate that what I'm about to say is entirely my honest opinion. I did it when I reviewed Rich Hawkins's The Last Plague (and I'll do it again when I review that book's sequel, the Last Outpost), and I'm doing it now because I do consider Kit Power a friend - he may disagree - and also because he's a regular Ginger Nuts contributor, and I worry there's a danger people will say, 'oh, he's only saying that because they're mates/colleagues, blah, blah'. I'm not 'only saying it' and I don't. Ever. This is my honest opinion. Take it or leave it (but you better believe it - sorry). Oh, and there's also the fact that I had the tiniest of input on the final proofing for this novel as I read it.
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