Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: Pastworld by Ian Beck

Title: Pastworld

Author: Ian Beck

Pages: 368

Where I got it: publisher


Pastworld. A city within a city. A city for excursions and outings. Pastworld is a theme park with a difference, where travellers can travel back in time for a brush with an authentic Victorian past. But what if the Jack the Ripper figure stopped play-acting and really started killing people? For Caleb, a tourist from the present day, his visit goes terribly wrong when his father is kidnapped and he finds himself accused of murder. Then Caleb meets Eva Rose, a Pastworld inhabitant who has no idea the modern world exists. Both Caleb and Eva have roles to play in the murderer’s diabolical plans – roles that reveal disturbing truths about their origins.

After a mysterious Great Depression-like financial collapse, London has been restored to it's Victorian hayday--at least, some of it. A big enough section to hold it's own variation of lifeform, large enough to seal off the world outside. This restored London has become an amusement park to the wealthy, a way of life to those who roam the streets. While paying customers--"Gawkers"--soak in the adventure of Old Times, the inhabitants need only go about their buisness.

But the thing about Victorian London--yes, you will get the authanticity. Including the crimes, the public excecutions, the "murder tours", and the general lawlessness. And who is the first person that comes to mind when one thinks of these things?

Jack the Ripper.

Or rather, the Fantom (aka The Gentleman--alot more badass, if you ask me...which you didn't...moving on). A msyterious young man who's seemingly sole purpose in life is to commit atrocities...all for the entertainment of Gawkers. He and his ragged men reak silent havoc throughout Pastworld, recreating the true experience of the age.

Out protangonists are unclear--there are so many jumps in narrative, it's hard to tell--but I'm guessing it's Eve (who, as the only first person narrator, is mostly relavent only in her diary entries), a life-long citizen of Pastworld. But she doesn't know she's living in a fantasy---for all she knows, horse-drawn carriages are modern technology. All she knows, really, is the small apartment she and her guardian Jack share. That is, until the sudden urge to free herself of her sheltered life takes hold...

And then there's Caleb. Son of one of the founding fathers of Pastworld, Caleb wants nothing more then to escape in a world other then his own--a world we only get to see secondhand as, obviously, everything we know, we know because of Pastworld. But when his father is kidnapped by The Fantom's ragged men, Eve's guardian Jack killed, and Caleb framed for both crimes, both Eve and Caleb's seemingly unrelated pasts will collide, changing both of their lives forever (!!!!)

Okay, um. I have very conflicted feelings about Pastworld. On one hand, the concept is so amazingly awesome that I want so badly to think that it is awesome, but on the other just falls short.

Lemme explain:

You know how the first thing you look for in a book is whether or not you care. Care about where the plots going, care about where it will take the characters. You read to find out, not just to finish? I felt none of this for Pastworld.

I mean, yeah, it's entertaining. But it lacks a to it. Yes, it is hard to create relations with characters seen through a third person perspective, but Caleb and Eve and Co. all came across as flat as the paper they were printed on. When Caleb's father is kidnapped, his reaction is just...odd. Not odd like "holyhorseshit my pops just got CAPPED YO!" but odd like..."hmmm I just got framed for a murder and my dad got dragged off by a bunch of neo-begger folk...let me just wander around and ponder...ponder...ponder...pon...der....". Though Eve would have an excuse for this kind of reaction--she's been outside only a handful of times in her life--Caleb has lived. I'm sure he's seen television. I'm sure there had been some "Stranger Danger" seminar in his grade school at some point. None of the characters felt real to me. Though there definetly was an honest effort, and I could see myself loving some of them (Bible J. comes to mind), the life just isn't there.

Another frustration I had with Pastworld was the world outside of it. It's hinted heavily that there is some kind of dystopia outside of Pastworld's gates. A "sameness" that Caleb is constantly reminding himself about. The idea of it is much more fascinating then Eve running off to the circus for a few dozen pages, no offense to Mr. Beck. Maybe that wasn't the story he was aiming to tell, but that is the one I would have loved to read. What exactly brought Pastworld into existance? What brought civilization to such a low that people had to maim other people in a restored Victorian London as entertainment? What oh what?

Through the misgivings, you have to admit--Pastworld is haunting. The descriptions, the scenery, the general feel just kind of grabs you. But the plot is just so...unevenly distributed, if you know what I mean. It was pretty hard to get into. But I did, after a few pages.

Overall, Pastworld is a notable effort that could have been something Great. However, everything just fell a bit too short for that. I do, however, look forward to seeing what Mr. Beck comes up with next, because he really does have potention with this one.

Rating: Either a 5 (meh) or a 6 (good). Kind of torn...

Also: If your interested in the idea of Pastworld, be sure to check out the Jim Carrey flick, The Truman Show, about a man who's entire life has been the subject of a hit television show. With him as the star.


Lauren said...

Bummer. I've been really hoping to read this soon, so while your honesty is much appreciated, it's made my excitement about the book wane a little! (On the plus side, your paragraph about Caleb's reaction to his dad's death made me laugh at 7.35 am on a work day, which doesn't happen often). I'll still read it, but you've helped me get my expectations in check, so thanks.

brizmus said...

Pastworld sounds cool, and I loved the Truman Show. I'm sad it didn't end up being a book that you cared about.
Caleb's reaction was indeed weird. I guess I might be passing on this one.

Lindsay Frost said...

Nice review! I REALLY like your blog! :D:D:D

prophecygirl said...

Great review! I personally LOVED Pastworld, and will read it again at some point. It's interesting to read what you didn't like, and even though I don't agree with all your points, I can definitely see what you mean! :)

Stormi said...

Great interview, the book sounds really good and I love the concept so I was saddened to hear you didn't like very much, I might read it but will not put it on my priority list. Thanks for the heads up.

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