The Bailey’s Book Prize: The Shortlist is Revealed!

On Monday, lovely team Bailey’s Prize announced their final six books making it into the shortlist for 2016. For those who aren’t familiar with the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the prize began officially twenty years ago in response to a male dominated Man Booker Prize in 1991. A group of book lovers met to start their own prize, and thanks to Orange’s original support the Women’s Prize for Fiction launched in 1996, with the first winner being Helen Dunmore for A Spell Of Winter.

Followers of Hux Tales will know that I am a mere 50% through the longlist (I am Lucy Barton finished and awaiting blog, and I’m almost done reading The House at the Edge of the World) but I plan to continue my reviews and replace the “why it should win” section with “why it should have won” in future reviews for books not on the shortlist.

So, on to the shortlist. Firstly there are two books that I haven’t gotten around to yet, those being Ruby by Cynthia Bond which I am very excited to read and The Green Road by Anne Enright. Team Bailey’s have kindly offered to send me over copies of both so I’ll bump forward their reviews once they arrive. I’m equally surprised that Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins didn’t make the shortlist after its luck in the Costa Prize and accolades.

A Little Life was on there which is no surprise to me at all. I continue to think it’s probably going to be this year’s winner. The Portable Veblen and The Glorious Heresies are both books I’ve very recently reviewed and enjoyed. I’m really sad that At Hawthorn Time and I am Lucy Barton didn’t make it on there because I enjoyed them just as much as both of these, and in terms of personal feelings of enjoyment my favourite has probably been The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet but I didn’t think it would make the shortlist.

Just so you know, the announcement came out while I was listening to Malorie Blackman talk about writing children’s literature and I was completely starry eyed, so my pal Sim who works in the same shop as me sent me a whatsapp alerting me that The Improbability of Love had made the shortlist. Now, my most read blog in the last few weeks has been that on The Improbability of Love, a book that I found to be a jumbled mess of too many ideas. So do you know what I might do, reader? I might try and finish the thing and update my blog review with a “several weeks later follow up”. I’m not going to alter what I said the first time and I stand by the idea that if a book doesn’t grasp me in the first 50% of it, I’m not going to love it. But I have decided and I shall do it. I really dislike giving up on books as it is and I’m just going to commit myself and finish it.

More reviews coming soon, but I’ve been spending the last few days using my writing hours to work on my novel, thoroughly inspired by listening to a talk by Malorie Blackman and attending a panel on narrative in interactive media with Leigh Alexander, Gabrielle Kent, Rhianna Pratchett and Rob Morgan. I will probably talk about it at some point in the future but for now just know it is a thing coming into existence. I’m pregnant with a book? Ew that sounds gross.

The Bailey’s Book Prize: Rush! Oh! by Shirley Barrett

I don’t know if you know, guys, but whales are amazing. I have quite a few books on the life history and biology of cetaceans of various species, and even have a whatsapp group with two of my other whale obsessed pals. So you’d naturally be surprised at me saying I recently read a novel about the whale hunting industry that decimated global populations and loved it (the book not the hunting obvs). I mean, I was surprised too.

Rush! Oh! is the first novel by Shirley Barrett, screenwriter and director, and its a pretty excellent debut, tackling a lesser known piece of history.

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Did you know that in New South Wales the whale hunters used to use other whales to act as sheepdogs to help bring down the target whales?! Orcas, yes the same magnificent beasts as poor old Tilikum,  cooperated in a symbiotic/mutualistic relationship with the human whale hunters to bring down whales, which they would share the bounty of – the orcas would get the tongue and lips, and the humans would get the blubber to render into oil. It’s absolutely fascinating, and apparently Eden has a small museum about it.

Not only that but the orcas could distinguish between the boats used and so wouldn’t hunt with competitors. Loyal sheepdog orcas. You got it.

And not only that, but they had a distinct method of communicating with the whale hunters that they were trailing a target whale, through flop-tail, upon seeing the whale hunters would head towards the orcas ready to spear.Rush! Oh! itself is the call to action upon seeing a whale or seeing Tom’s flop-tail signals.

I must admit I fell down an internet hole reading about it when I initially finished the book and while writing this review, probably why its taken me 9 weeks to write it (admittedly still not as bad as my 80for80 output). Also I realise that I’m talking more and more about the history and less about the actual book, so I’ll get back to it. But really, the history is fascinating grim stuff.

Mary Davidson, the eldest daughter of the fictionalised Davidson clan (the Davidsons were real but Barrett has developed her own version of the family), decides to chronicle the difficult year of 1908, a year where the weather and whales were transient. Amidst all this arrives John Beck, mysterious and completely alluring to young Mary. Thus alongside the horrors of subsistence whaling forms a gentle romance, creating the most bizarre but realistic juxtaposition. Mary is strong and wilful, caring, and determined. I really liked her, probably more than her sister Louisa who is wonderfully flighty.

This is a really historically rich novel. Alongside the whaling industry, there is alludes to racism the white people direct towards aboriginal people, many of whom make up the Davidson’s whaling crew – important to remember that they still face oppression to this day, of course.

I really enjoyed Rush! Oh! and loved the beautiful illustrations of the whales and characters that pepper the text.

Why should it win?

Barrett combines a lesser known fascinating bit of grim history with a light story of family, first loves and community, creating a book both light and dark at once. Very enjoyable.

What to read next:

I was kindly sent postcards of some of the illustrations from Virago and Little Brown Book Company along with a review copy – thanks guys!

The Bailey’s Book Prize: The Portable Veblen

Content note: This blog discusses physical and verbal abuse of disabled people featured in the book.

As usual plot spoilers are within .

Did you know that squirrels not only remember what order they bury their food caches, but can also remember what they’ve buried and also its use by date. That’s right, squirrels are amazing. People are often split between squirrels, seeing them as “rats with a fluffy tail” in cities, despite them often being one of the few wild animals that city children see on a regular basis. I’m particularly fond of them, especially the cheeky dumpy ones in London parks who sidle up to you to see if you have any food and whether you will share it. I loved watching them hang upside down from branches in my grandmother’s garden, pilfering tasty treats from the bird feeders. I love the tufty eared red ones that live in scented forests near home, filled with the energy of Squirrel Nutkin.

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Basically, I really like squirrels, and so I was excited to read a novel so… so… squirrelly. The Portable Veblen was my sixth read Bailey’s Prize book, so this blog is a little late! But it still remains one of my favourites so far.

Veblen (named after famous philosopher Thorstein Veblen) is a young, scatty woman, who translates Norwegian as a hobby and talks to squirrels. At first I was a little worried she was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl but fear not past me (and future you), she is so much more. Veblen is strong but also fragile; she grew up with an overbearing mother and an emotionally distant father, both of whom have mental health problems that leave an imprint on Veblen. She tries hard, she sees good, she works against all odds for the happiness of others. She talks about anti-capitalism, consumerism, values beyond the American Dream.

Ultimately her story is about agreeing to marry her boyfriend, and trying to bring the strands of her family together. It sounds simplistic, but it is rich with insight on mental health, the meaning of family and how to be your own person under the weight of both of those. I found her very compelling as a character, and her quirks felt real. Her willingness to talk to squirrels begins as a childish retreat, but soon becomes a sign of something more troubling, like her habit of biting herself when under stress.

And then we have Paul, her partner. For context, I almost threw my book off a train because I hate him so much (Elizabeth McKenzie and the Bailey’s Prize comms team implored me not to, and my love of Veblen kept it in my hand). Paul is a neurologist developing a tool to stop brain injuries in combat situations, and rapidly becomes the interest of a pharmaceutical corporation. His aim is honourable and professionally he stands for what is good and right.

But, there is a big problem with Paul, and that’s his relationship with his brother. Like Veblen, Paul has a complicated relationship with his family, rebels against them like a teenage boy, very much all about Paul. Paul has a disabled brother, the name of his disability ultimately kept vague, but possibly a form of intellectual disability with compulsion issues. Paul and Justin fight like brothers, but also Paul physically and verbally abuses his brother. Paul repeatedly denies his brother agency, talks over his brother and not to him, ignores the love that Justin has for him. I find this to be the biggest problem in the novel, in that it instantly made me root for Veblen to throw Paul into a deep ravine. His ableism isn’t massively challenged and ultimately he and Veblen do get married, and so I felt he was rewarded for his professional good deeds by “getting the girl”.  I don’t think that being disabled is the reason why I find this so abhorrent, but the idea of someone hurting me when I’m at my most vulnerable is a fear that holds true. Also in the climate of the UK where disabled people are currently experiencing the government’s attempted financial genocide through the cutting of all benefits, it really felt painful.

I did really enjoy this book, but almost exclusively because of Veblen (and bad stuff happening to Paul, the big wazzock). On reflection I’m still frustrated by the ending for the way Justin is treated and still want to drop something heavy onto Paul. Despite that, I still really enjoyed the story and Elizabeth McKenzie’s writing. I am very much looking forward to reading more by her in the future, especially if the theme of having almost every language’s words for a particular animal continues!

Why should it win?

With The Portable Veblen, Elizabeth McKenzie delicately weaves a funny and touching novel about mental health, philosophy, finding out who we are and learning how to love other people. Also, squirrels rock.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you to Harper Collins for sharing this copy with me.

The Bailey’s Book Prize: The Glorious Heresies

Content note for blog: whorephobia, sexual abuse, rape. There are also mild spoilers discussed (spoiler note in bold below).

The book itself requires content warnings specifically for domestic violence, child sexual abuse/rape, drug and alcohol abuse, and whorephobia.

I’m going to preface this review by saying openly and honestly that I don’t think I would ever have picked this book up if it weren’t for the Bailey’s Prize. While I’m a wide ranging reader, gritty realism and crime novels are not really my fiction of choice – too much intensity, too much of home for me. By reading along with a fiction prize, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and I tell you, if I hadn’t have picked this up I would have really missed out. Let me tell you why.

Lisa McInerney’s first novel is a tour de force of comic noir, a tale of characters desperate striving against poverty in Cork. Partially grown from her  (sadly now defunct) award winning blog The Arse End of Ireland, The Glorious Heresies is a raw snapshot of many of Ireland’s forefront issues – the legacy of the Magdalene laundries, abortion rights or the lack thereof, drugs, and amateur gangsters. It is astonishingly rich in Irish life, and the reality of working class Ireland. I have become a monster and turned over page corners all the way through, noting important points, to the absolute dismay of my partner… I even broke the spine a little bit! Rich tapestry aside, McInerney’s prose twists, turns and jumps alternately beautiful-horrific.

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We begin with wild and wiry Maureen, who finds herself in trouble after fatally thwacking an intruder with a piece of religious iconography. Enter her son, Jimmy Phelan or “J.P.”, Cork’s underground gangster-King, who ropes in hapless alcoholic Tony Cusack to help him dispose of the body. All well and good, until the dead man’s girlfriend, sex worker Georgie, comes knocking. Mixed up in all of this is Tony’s oldest son Ryan, intelligent beyond his peers, a natural musician, deeply in the throes of first love and selling drugs on the side. And finally, sneaking around in the background, is the treacherous Tara Duane *shudders*.

I found Ryan’s story the most gripping and desperately sad. Beaten by his father, too-clever, swept up by drugs – it’s a story I’ve seen play out in my own life time. He is witty to a fault, and absolutely besotted by Karine D’Arcy. The story of their romance begins with the heady heights of teenage love, all passion and all sex. But sadly for Ryan, things just get worse for him as the book progresses. <Spoilers>: Most notably, McInerney tells the story of his underage intoxicated rape by Tara Duane with delicacy, and deftly shows how survival of sexual abuse (as well as the domestic violence he receives at the hands of his father) changes him, infiltrates his psyche, convinces him that he did wrong. Rarely do novels (or the media) tell the story of women raping men, a crime that stigma has repeatedly suggested is impossible but is very much real and needs to be talked about, and this novel braces that with harsh reality and deep understanding. A huge content note for rape for the chapter What Tara Did on page 356 of the paperback edition

Another rarity featured is a sex worker character with agency, however she does fall into several sex worker character tropes that include being a drug addict, and being rescued by Christians. Georgie has roots in Jimmy’s side businesses that existed in Maureen’s house, buys drugs from Ryan, spurns Tara Duane’s false desire to rescue her and just wants to find her boyfriend, weaving all the characters together firmly. She’s an important character and I sympathised with her a lot, finding her story compellingly tragic. However, and this is quite a big however, there is a line on page 38 of the paperback edition that nearly had me stop reading the book as it does not come from a character’s mouth (where some of the more horrible lines usually emanate from) but in the prose – “When Georgie had worked indoors, there hadn’t been a shortage of inlets for numbing substances, all but essential when you were fucked for a living.” So, I don’t know Lisa McInerney’s politics, and I’m not entirely sure whether this was supposed to be an extension of George’s thoughts or the general attitude in the brothel, but this line did shock me.

I think what is further demonstrated in this book is the damage that Ireland’s stance on sex work and brothel keeping (i.e. two or more sex workers working together is criminalised, meaning they are pushed further underground) has on Georgie, and many real life sex workers in Ireland – to find out more visit Sex Workers Alliance Ireland. For an amazing 101 on sex work, please watch this amazing Ted Talk by Toni Mac.

It is only in the last 50 pages that the chapters begin with “What [x-character] did” where many of the significant plot points are tied up, which I absolutely raced through it. The Glorious Heresies does not ever pull its punches – it is a harsh yet rich book. I often had to put it down just to recover!

Why should it win?

The Glorious Heresies is gritty, raw and honest, finding roots in its author’s biographical writing about the city of Cork. The novel tackles difficult subjects and Ireland’s current issues with care, while sending jab after jab at the characters and the reader.

Interested? Get it here.

Thanks so much to John Murray for sweetly sending a copy over to me.

The Bailey’s Book Reviews: The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

It is a rare thing for me to give up on a book. Generally, I will persist far past the point of enjoyment, not necessarily for completion’s sake, but I wonder if you can truly get a good feel for a novel if you haven’t taken it to the very end.

Today, I have given up on a book, and I feel really bad about it. Those who’ve been following my reviews will know I finished Gorsky, even though I was mostly baffled by its existence and frustrated by the other novel that it could have been. The Improbability of Love has lost me officially at page 215 of 479, though it never really had me to start with. My partner and friends have been telling me to sack it off for days as I’ve been so frustrated by it, and dear reader, I closed the book.

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TIOL, as I will now refer to it, is not only the story of a painting but it is the painting, a (fictional) rarity painted by the (non-fictional) Antoine Watteau, lost from the art world and rediscovered by sad-single Annie. The story opens with an auction of the painting itself, where many of the rich and famous are gathering to buy it, with amusing critique of the art world that Rothschild herself inhabits. At the last possible moment, the painting is stolen – aha intrigue! But then the narrative switches back to six months earlier, and Annie’s discovery.

This is where the problem begins, or at least one of the problems. Rothschild reintroduces us to many of the characters mentioned in the opening Prologue who eventually will buy the painting, which ultimately serves to muddy the plot. I regularly wondered who I was supposed to care about. Was it Annie? Was it the painting?

I tell you what, it wasn’t the painting. An interesting narrative device is used by having the painting speak for themselves, though it is scuppered by the fact that the painting is so gosh darn annoying. A mix between Hyacinth Bucket (or Bouquet) and Miss Piggy, the painting regularly refers to itself as moi and repeatedly switches between giving an art history lesson and telling parts of the story from its own point of view. I have never hated a painting in such a way before. The art history bit was actually interesting because Watteau is a painter I personally know little about, so thoroughly enjoyed the information dotted throughout the book but I really feel it could have been better delivered that through the thoughts of an imaginary canvas.

Okay, so maybe it’s Annie we are supposed to care about? But we learn very little about Annie from the beginning, and her life is revealed in rather piecemeal offerings throughout the novel. Her passion for food and cooking could have been presented much earlier, and her history with her ex and the cheese shop she once loved would have served to make us much more sympathetic to her early on. Knowing that she’s a single person living in the same borough as me buying expensive presents for someone she met at a single’s mixer didn’t really let me know much about her, other than perhaps she has a desperate need to be liked by men who are emotionally unavailable?? I don’t even know if the love interest Jesse turns out to fill that role or if her ex did because I really know less about her than we do about her alcoholic mother, Evie, who inexplicably shows up as some sort of MPDG to make Annie actually do things.

Then there are a bunch of other people – Rebecca who is married to Annie’s boss Carlo who cheats a lot but eventually employs her to do fancy dinners; Barty, an ageing gay man who is a fixer-upper of other people’s lives; a Russian exile Vlad who comes to London and doesn’t know how to spend all his mountains of money (poor little sausage); Delores who eats a lot and writes about Watteau, but discredits the painting; Jesse who is an art guide and the love interest, who casually drops that his dad was murdered for his work on painting DNA???? (this is not mentioned again in the first half of the book); Agatha who works on the painting and knew Jesse’s dad and is glad to have him back in her life and is maybe carrying on with the DNA project maybe; Mrs Appledore who … buys things? The point is there are a bunch of people who I know will want to buy it, and we are introduced to them but I literally am not interested in any of them.

All of the characters who are POC, gay or Russian feel like such stereotypes to the point that I felt really very uncomfortable. In the Prologue, the rapper who is a black man brings along many women of colour in his entourage who are repeatedly mentioned as wearing almost nothing, to an auction. No not to a club, to an auction house. Firstly, nah, that doesn’t fly and I feel uncomfortable with you using women of colour as a weird set piece like that; and secondly I doubt no woman is going to miss out on wearing the best gown with the most expensive jewels to an auction house, to this supposed monumental event of the art world. Later, Annie’s previous culinary successes are listed, with a “tribal themed” dinner party being mentioned, shortly after the slur “gypsy” is dropped. Tribal ain’t a thing; a specific indigenous people’s culture and food, yeh. But tribal is just not a thing. Vlad is a disconnected, cold hearted Russian man who murdered his brother by pushing him down a mine shaft, and Barty is a flamboyant old gay man who wears vintage suits and employs beautiful young society girls to be his social secretaries. These people don’t feel real.

Where I had gotten to in the book, Agatha was only just working on the painting and so the world did not know it was a lost treasure yet. And I realised I didn’t care. In the last two days, I have advanced maybe 50 pages. Given that I read almost the entire 700+ pages of A Little Life on a Wednesday shows how little I was into this. I’d just pick up my phone and browse ebay. I did read Watteau’s wikipedia, so this book has taught me a little about art, at the very least.

I feel that this is a book that doesn’t know what it is. At points it is an awkward love story, but it is so slow moving and Annie seems so uninterested in Jesse, I didn’t really care. Too rarely it is a pointed critique on the art world and the consumerism associated with it. Other times, it is an ode to food and I honestly think these are the times the novel was actually interesting and enjoyable. Annie’s feasts, reminiscent of Heston’s Fantastic Feasts, are well researched and made my mouth water. I would happily have read more of that, than read about Vlad.

I recognise that by not finishing the book, I have missed out on what the build up was to, but the issue here is that I was not remotely grabbed by any of it. Instead I was confused by who to care about, didn’t know who I was supposed to root for. It is with a heavy heart that I close this book, write the review and say goodbye to the missing painting, and move on to another Bailey’s Prize book, hoping for better things.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending the review copy over.

Why should it win?

I swore I was only going to keep this part positive, but I am struggling so much. I don’t think it should.

The Bailey’s Book Reviews: Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy

Deja vu is a funny thing. That sense of repetition, unmistakable sameness. When I began reading Gorsky, I began to feel it completely.

At first I thought hey, maybe it’s because Nik is a bookseller. I carried on. Gorsky arrived in his magnificence, Natalia entered the narrative as a beautiful, intelligent and sad presence in Nik’s fantasy-romance. Still it seemed all a bit familiar. I chalked it up to having read something similar in the past. Then Natalia’s friend Gery shows up, a former gymnast who is immediately set up with Nik by Natalia, and I realised that I was reading The Great Gatsby. Or at least, The Great Gorsky.

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I decided to give the book the benefit of the doubt, and continue reading – so often, reviews will spoil the endings and while I wanted to know whether this really was a purposeful retelling or awkward accident, I figured I’d wait until the end. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake. Knowing it was a retelling from the outset would have removed that aching nag that this was too close to comfort, or that perhaps I had officially read too many books.

When Baz Luhrman decided to make the lavish tale of The Great Gatsby into a movie, many of us were swept into a Fitzgerald fever. As an obsessive collector of sets, I bought many of the beautiful art deco Fitzgeralds published by Alma Books and ploughed through the majority of his novels. While I do not believe him to be a master storyteller, nor Gatsby the best novel ever, I did enjoy it and have a soft spot for his penchant for restless, drunken, rich young men persuing complex women who cannot love them.

Maybe this is why I can’t quite understand why this book exists… I hate that I feel this way about a piece of art, which I thoroughly believe has intrinsic worth of its own, but I’m just a little at a loss when it comes to retellings. I think my problem is that I can’t see where it fits to me in the long term, and how I feel that it would have so many more strengths had it followed an original plot.

This is not to say that it is a bad book. It is not. Goldsworthy delves deeply into a London of extreme wealth, touches upon interesting (and brutal) moments in Eastern European and Russian history, and has some absolutely beautiful moments of prose. It also provides a great list of Russian authors, poets and artists to investigate after the novel is over.

It did keep me reading and, partly due to its short length, I finished it relatively quickly. However I cannot completely give over that this was somewhat linked to being baffled by a reused plot. I am disappointed because these plus points are exactly what I’d love to read more of – and I would be fascinated to see what else Goldsworthy writes, or what she could have written other than this.

I suspect that this is partly an intrinsic bias I have against retellings and reimaginings; unless they significantly add something to the story, I’m not interested. Updating difficult-to-access texts such as the works of Chaucer or Shakespeare for a modern audience is something I’m all behind – whatever gets people interested in these great stories is a good thing. The problem is, I don’t think Gorsky really adds too much to Gatsby, and this retelling of the plot means that the characters often feel underdeveloped and wan. If I hadn’t have read Gatsby before, I suspect I may have thought them to be very flat and in fact its only because of what I know about who they are supposed to represent that they feel more fleshed out than they really are.

I really, really hate that I’ve given this such a blunt review but I wanted to be honest about what I was feeling and my frustrations with what could have been.

Thanks to Chatto & Windus, and Penguin Random House for sending over a review copy to the shop.

Why it should win

While probably my least favourite of the longlist so far, Gorsky is a beautiful story, with lavish descriptions and good pacing. Goldsworthy is a great writer, and I look forward to reading her other works.

The Bailey’s Book Reviews: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

My favourite type of video games are those I can really get stuck into and build a story of my own. In 2014, I finally splurged on all three Mass Effect titles and thoroughly enjoyed following my own female ginger-haired Shepherd through the trials of being a certified badass, throwing jemble upon jemble at the walls in a flick of a hand. But aside from the ever-so-satisfying combat (particularly in the first game where you literally could walk into a room and lift everyone in it straight away), what really got me hooked was the multi-species crew, their back-stories and their future with you.

Especially Liara. Oh Liara.

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Love me? Of course I will!

The characters come in shades of grey moral wise, and depending on your choices throughout the adventure will also depend on who you grow closest to. If you haven’t played Mass Effect you should. If you lack a suitable device to play it on, then I recommend watching many of the cut together “Mass Effect movies” on Youtube. So the reason I bring up Mass Effect is that The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is basically a book of Mass Effect character quests.

I realise this comparison will mean absolutely nothing to a lot of you, so I’ll try another.

It’s like watching a multi-species crew pilot Serenity on a long mission in the short-lived show Firefly, instead of everyone speaking Chinese from being part of an integrated society yet being almost totally Caucasian but that’s a gripe for another day. The book has the fun bounciness and quick wit that Joss Whedon gives to all his characters, though very much feel like Chambers’ own creation, rather than an homage to anything specific.

Okay, so comparisons aside, this book is really great. Rosemary Harper joins the Wayfarer as a new administrator, and serves as our narrator that guides us through the lives of the crew. It is a classic space opera, reminiscent of Star Trek (oh alright one more comparison), that is absolutely joyous to read.

The Long Way originally started out life as a successfully funded Kickstarter project, as Chambers’ debut novel, that was then picked up by Hodder Books to be published in the UK and USA.

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Characterisation is the focus -really the story is not about the journey they make to a dangerous bit of space; it’s about who is making the journey and how they work together to complete it. Each voice is heard clearly, and none of the characters feel underwritten (I do think Kizzy could have been fleshed out more, but that is possibly because I felt she was probably an aspie and wanted to know more about her).

In fact, Chambers’ construction of non-human races is dramatically detailed, as well as the history of human expansion into the galaxy. The descriptions of deep-space mining is practically mind boggling, but also thrilling. The care and attention to detail for the galaxy inhabited by the Wayfarer is incredibly impressive and cohesive.

Some of the most touching moments came from Sissix’s storylines. A pilot and only resident Aandrisk, Sissix’s family life and culture is explored through its inclusiveness but also its willingness to exclude those who are different. In a small passage where Sissix comforts a lone Aandrisk, she later tells of how some of her people cannot communicate in the same way, and are often cast out, made to be loners. I basically bawled my eyes out at this (as does Rosemary, so I wasn’t alone). I absolutely love Sissix and hope desperately for more to be written about her.

Another heartwrenching storyline is the crew member who is in love with the ship’s AI; it can’t all end happily, can it?

The underlying moral of the story is ultimately that we may not always understand each other completely, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t care for each other. It’s a pretty good message to live by. Alongside that, it’s really fun. It’s silly and funny and ridiculous, and is full of heart.

Why should it win?

The Long Way combines zany space opera fun with thorough character focussed storylines, harmonising to create a fun, memorable adventure through space. Accessible community-focussed sci-fi for all!

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thanks again to Hodder Books for providing me with a review copy, though admittedly I’d already broken and bought a copy by the time it arrived. Grateful colleagues have been devouring it since.