A quick recap on my review policy - I only review books that I a) finish and b) enjoy. I mention this because I realise I’ve produced a string of glowing reviews lately, and you may fairly be wondering ‘is there anything this kid doesn’t like?’. To which the answer is ‘yes, lots’, but I tend not to write about it. Also, it just so happens that the last few titles I’ve picked up have at least thoroughly entertained me and at best utterly blown my mind.
Skullcrack City has not broken that pattern. Skullcrack City is bloody fantastic.
It’s also surprisingly hard to write about why. Some of that at least is down to the plot, which is very twisty indeed and I don’t want to spoil, with at least two utterly gigantic twists at roughly the third and two thirds mark that send the narrative hurtling off in a new direction, effectively re-aligning the genre of the piece in the process. In addition, genre is very tricky - it’s basically a pulp cyberpunk sci-fi magical realism crime caper drug/conspiracy thriller near future dystopian horror. It is also, as you may have surmised, gonzo as fuck.
It’s another one of those rare novels where just about everything works right, all the many, many moving parts and genre influences blending into a super smooth and potent brew. It’s one of those cocktails that goes down so easy that it’s only as you approach the bottom of the third one that you realise how lethally drunk you are - and by then, of course, it’s too late. By then, you’re strapped in and along for the ride.
It’s also, as again you may have gathered, paced at a breakneck level. As a writer, I found myself thinking ‘he’s going to run out of plot at this rate’, and then the story would take a massive narrative left turn, and suddenly a whole new vista would open up before you. This is not done in a cheap manner, by the way; every twist, no matter how huge, has just enough foreshadowing to feel earned within the story. Indeed, there’s nothing at all to distract you from the madcap tale unfolding in your mind - the prose is as slick and readable and just plain enjoyable as you could wish for, shot through with both an escalating anxiety and tension (courtesy of the narrator) and a lovely wry humor that compliments, rather than distracts from, the ever increasing pressure of the story.
And what a story! The writer throws concepts and ideas at the reader at an incredible rate, trusting to his own ability to communicate, and his audience's intelligence and willingness to keep up. It works magnificently, and leads to what amounts to, amongst other things, a crazy taxi thrill ride through an amazingly well realised near future dystopia. I was frequently left in a state of both joy and admiration at the sheer tonnage of brilliant ideas on casual display here - all in service to the story, not an ounce of wasted world building for it’s own sake.
Skullcrack City is an exhilarating, explosive, brilliant novel, and I highly recommend it to simply anyone who likes fun. Brilliant.
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