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Book Review

Book Cover

The Reef


Author: Mark Charan Newton
Pendragon Press
RRP: £9.99
ISBN: 978 0 9554452 6 2
Available 23 March 2008

Following the war against technology, the world is a very different place; clashes of political ideologies still lead to war and eradication. Jella knows this only too well as her people were destroyed in a war against Escha, now she wants revenge. With a group of like minded friends she travels to Arya, a tropical island, with a risky and audacious plan. Jella isn’t the only one heading for Arya, as a scientific expedition lead by Santiago DeBrelt intends to find out what has been sinking ships in the area. As the two groups travel to the island they have little inkling that the island holds its own secrets...

The Reef is Mark Charan Newton's debut novel. Now debut novels are usually a bit of a hit or miss affair as the author throws all their good ideas into a single plot - even though they are, to a certain extent, still learning their craft. What is surprising about The Reef is the almost effortless and accomplished way that Newton injects a level of literate prose, characterisation and plot development usually seen in a more seasoned author. And the praise does not stop there. Not only are his prose a delight to read but the book is a creation which balances well its fantasy credentials with a deeper examination of relationships - both between man and his environment and man and his fellow creatures.

Normally a fantasy book, like this, comes with a map. However Newton realises his world in such detail that one isn't required. From shabby splendour to tropical paradise his descriptions of the continent of Has-Jahn, Rhoam, Escha and Arya paint a vivid picture of this new world. Although exploration is the main theme of the book, it does not restrict itself to a sightseeing tour. Newton is just as interested in the reader exploring his characters as they themselves explore the inner world of their minds.

Although it is never specified that The Reef is set in some future version of the Earth, there is enough manmade technology, both old and new to ground a novice reader. Of course, it wouldn’t be a fantasy novel without exploring the fantastic and Newton has populated his new world with creatures which border on the mythical.

The main thrust of the plot gets underway when Sirens, a form of mermaid, are washed ashore and dissected by the right wing government of Escha. The fact that they exist is interesting enough but what sparks the expedition to Arya is the greater mystery of who is killing them and are their deaths linked the missing ships.

Generally, I am not a great fan of fantasy books as they tend to be full of magicians, female thieves and axe wielding maniacs. Newton, however, has carefully avoided these clichés - okay, Jella is a female thief, though not a human one - to re-inject a real sense of wonder into this genre and it is a wonder which will not necessarily offer all the answers up on a plate. Much is left unresolved or unanswered at the end of the book but then real life is like that.


Charles Packer

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