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The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

The Buried Life by Carrie Patel
Book Name: The Buried Life
Author: Carrie Patel
Publisher(s): Angry Robot
Formatt: Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Steampunk
Release Date: July 29, 2014


The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Ricoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

As soon as I heard about the setting of Carrie Patel’s debut novel, I felt as strong wave of nostalgia. The underground city of Recoletta made me think of The War of the Worlds, and the Artilleryman’s vision of a new civilization starting deep beneath the feet of Earth’s Martian overlords. Recoletta is similar to the place that my young self had envisioned this society to be, a place of gaslight and steam engines. What I’d never thought of, was how many shadows there would be, wherein could hide a multitude of secrets and lies. It’s a place where Inspector Liesl Malone must investigate the murder of a renowned historian, but the city’s Directorate of Preservation isn’t proving to be much help. What are the secrets they are trying to hide, and why?

Carrie Patel populates this city with an array of characters, each of which has a valid reason or agenda to be part of the story. It can seem like there are too many, that it would be difficult to make a main protagonist stand out, but it is here where Patel shows her great talent, creating not one but two major heroines. Inspector Malone alternates the story’s point of view with Jane Lin, a laundress from the lower classes. While the former is a tough cop and the latter somewhat more naive, both are greater than these traits personified. Each has their journey to make through the story – occasionally overlapping – both of them growing and shaping as the pages turn, but neither with an outcome that is obvious from the start. It’s clear that Patel cares about all of her characters – especially these two – and the work she’s put into developing them means the reader cares, too.

Yet, for all this talent on display, The Buried Life feels a somewhat restrained, almost tentative debut. It weighs in at a little over 300 pages, but could have easily been a hundred (or even two-hundred) more. Extra pages would have helped to bring the city to life as much as the characters; the back cover comparison with China Mieville makes me think immediately of New Crobuzon, which was a richly-detailed location that felt as alive as those who inhabited it. Patel tells us what we need to know about Ricoletta – which is fine – but I’m greedy, and would have liked to know so much more. Enough background is revealed as the story progresses, yet the oncoming revolution didn’t fill me with as much dread as I would have liked; more use could have been made of those flickering shadows and the sinister authorities that lurk within.

Of course, that’s a purely personal opinion, something that would have lifted the book to a higher level for me. Then again, I also wonder if lush pages of description would have slowed the story down for, as it stands, it’s excellent; I struggled to put the book down despite my yearnings for it to be more in-depth, the end of each chapter ensuring that I wanted to continue with the next. Characters interact with realistic conflict and wit, the plot is always moving forwards, and there are some sublime passages and scenes. While some twists and turns can be seen, retrospect makes me wonder if they were planted there to distract from those that come as a complete shock. For, in Recoletta, no-one is safe…

I enjoyed this book a lot, and it’s clear from reading it that Carrie Patel is a burgeoning new talent with a great future ahead of her. If I’ve perhaps been overly-critical, it’s only because it feels like that talent has been held back, as if she’s ‘played it safe’ – a shame, as she has a fresh and unique voice that could have been used to the full. The Buried Life, as a debut novel, shows great potential and I’m sure it will provide Carrie with a solid foundation for her writing career. She’s certainly a name to watch, and I hope she takes the reins in both hands for her follow-up novel, and gives us the wonderful book that she’s certainly capable of writing. As it is, The Buried Life may be a somewhat wary first step, but it’s one worthy of enough praise to give its author the confidence to move on in strides.


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