When I find an author I like I'm more than happy to read further books by them. Last year I read and reviewed Hired Guns by Mark Boss, and found it a refreshing action read. As such I was keen to take a look at this book. This is completely different to Hired Guns though and I have to admit that to start with I was going to just give up and stop reading because I didn't think it would be my thing. However I like to give a book a good chance, read on a bit further and found myself lured in! I don't like to put in spoilers but in this case it would be hard to write any sort of review and explain why I enjoyed it without revealing the premise so be warned before you read on.
Sixteen year old Dahlia is hospitalised after a football accident, then a subsequent scan shows she has an inoperable brain tumour. She lapses into a coma and finds her way to the Shadow Lands. This is a parallel universe where the world she knows is crumbling. Her home town is inhabited by ferocious mutant animals and tribes of feral children. Somewhere is the monster she must find and slay (and quickly) in order to return to our world - her cancer monster. In her quest to get home she also meets Faders (ghostly individuals who have given up their fight but are yet to die) and another Relentless (a person who won't stop fighting their illness) who has been in town for some time.
Faced with strange mutant monsters chasing a girl through a grim and dank parallel world I did wonder what I was getting myself into until the main premise of the plot was revealed. I thought the idea of patients in a coma being present in an alternate reality where they have to literally battle their illness was a very clever one. While it's a pretty horrible thought, as one of the young characters points out, they'd rather be there and fighting than present in reality and suffering.
I liked Dahlia, who after overcoming her shock turns out to be a resourceful and mature 16 year old, and felt for her as she assumed responsibility for a group of young feral children despite it conflicting with her search for her monster. The other character who was less prominent but plays an important role, and who I hope will appear in future Shadow Lands books, was Fader Boy. There's a hint of potential romance and he shows that not all Faders are completely resigned to their fate, providing a little spark of hope.
The author paints a picture of a world that is all too familiar but where water permeates and ruins virtually everything that might be useful to those stuck in the Shadow Lands. I could really imagine the sort of bone aching chill from being constantly damp and cold, and think Mark did a really good job of creating the nightmare world Dahlia finds herself in.
There were a few minor typos and it's not a long book but generally I found this an absorbing read and I'm so relieved I didn't give up on it. It's such an interesting mix of horror and fantasy and I'd love to read more about the Shadow Lands. Although the main protagonist and a lot of the minor characters are young this has some rather grim moments so it's probably not suitable for younger readers, although I can imagine the appeal for perhaps mid teens upwards.
Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*