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Jacob's Ladder (SF) - Charlie Pike ****

This book had two things on the back that might have put me off - but having read it, I'm really pleased they didn't. First, from the blurb it's clearly a dystopian work, about an extremely unpleasant Earth in 2203. With a few notable exceptions, I really don't like dystopias. The world is miserable enough as it is - the last thing I need is to read about more misery for entertainment. And it's also labelled Young Adult. I think this is a mistake - it's no more Young Adult (which in bookspeak means teen) than an X-rated horror movie. The protagonists may be late teen, but for me this is solid adult fare.

This made reading the first few pages a matter of trepidation - but I was soon reassured by Charlie Pike's strong writing style. The reader is engaged quickly with the main characters, and drawn along by a powerful, page-turning narrative.

The Earth is dying due to solar flares, made worse by weird weather, manmade killer bugs and more. But there have been messages from another world promising salvation for the few - Leon is being prepared to be one of the saved, while Martha effectively acts as his slave. At the core of the story is, in part, the transformation of their relationships, but there is far more involved, particularly as it becomes clear that Leon's worldview is down to being a member of a cult, rather than one that is necessarily universal.

To be honest, I found the whole aliens and being saved bit the weakest part of the book. What was involved was confusing and never properly explained. But that didn't really matter as the vast majority of the story was about Leon and Martha attempting to survive a range of trials in the wild - and this was impressively (if very gruesomely) done.

Pike builds a picture of a horrible world - there's hardly a nice person to be encountered. But there's no doubt that it's one where the reader has to turn the next page and find out what happened.
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Review by Brian Clegg 

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