Gleam by Tom Fletcher
Published by Jo Fletcher Books on September 4, 2014
The gargantuan Factory of Gleam is an ancient, hulking edifice of stone, metal and glass ruled over by chaste alchemists and astronomer priests. As millennia have passed, the population has decreased, and now only the central district is fully inhabited and operational; the outskirts have been left for the wilderness to reclaim. This decaying, lawless zone is the Discard; the home of Wild Alan. Clever, arrogant, and perpetually angry, Wild Alan is both loved and loathed by the Discard's misfits. He's convinced that the Gleam authorities were behind the disaster that killed his parents and his ambition is to prove it. But he's about to uncover more than he bargained for.
The cover may be absolutely gorgeous, but be warned, this is one strange world. Within the Gleam, there is a black Pyramid in which people are safe from the external threats. They are shown preserved samples of the creatures that lurk outside their walls, in what they call the Discard. They are told stories of the horrors that await anyone that ventures outside the safety of the Pyramid. But Alan (also known as Wild Alan), knows a different side of the life outside the Pyramid. Unlike others, he was actually born in the Discard, he spent his childhood in what sounds to be a pleasant trading town situated between the Pyramid and the rest of the Discard. But, given this is a dark dystopian type of book, all good things must come to an end. Tragedy strikes, and Alan find himself taken into the Pyramid.
Years later, after Alan has grown and has a wife and child, Alan once again finds himself in the Discard, dependent on his abilities to sing and entertain to provide him with shelter and food. And his willingness to sleep with just about anything to moves to give him warmth and companionship at night. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Kvothe given these two traits, but Alan is by no means Kvothe. They both just happen to sing and sleep around. Alan is driven by his desire to make right for Billy, his son he left behind. As part of this, he is tasked with an impossible journey. One that will take him to part of the Discard that even those in the Discard fear. And what kind of journey would it be without companions? Alan winds up with a group of four other people on this mission.
Their journeys take them through this strange and bizarre world. A world that has, amongst other mysteries, a terrifying, blood thirsty creature with razor sharp claws that also cries and/or giggles like an infant. There are gigantic snails that some adventurous folks have even taken to saddling and riding as a means of transportation. There is a large trade in mushrooms of all kinds, known for varying types of side effects when taken for recreational use. Deformities are also common in areas, people with multiple mouths, glass hands, missing sections of torso. Oh and the ailments. Vomiting frogs is the most memorable. So yes, prepare yourself for a level of strangeness.
I try to avoid spoilers, but found I can’t fully write my review for this without touching on my reaction to the ending. Without any specifics I will say I am not a fan of books that end with a sudden reveal of information that happened prior to our story began. A critical turn of events that can explain much of what had seemed more of a mystery throughout the book. I would rather have known going in, and just had it been a little less of a puzzle. Maybe it is this way by design. Maybe its an indication of Alan finally coming to terms with the whole truth of why things happened. But as a reader, my reaction was a bit less favorable because of it. But, I am guessing many readers won’t have this hang up.
Overall, this was a fun a different read. The world is quite unpredictable and imaginative. Despite his flaws, despite his constant anger, I liked Alan, I was rooting for him to make it in this odd and threatening place, I wanted him to find happiness and a way to save his son and wife. This book is dark and bizarre, so I don’t think its going to be for everyone. But, it is also fascinating and captivating, so if you enjoy that sort of thing, then it’s definitely worth the read.