A little over a year ago Ink inspired me to write my first ever book review so I've been champing at the bit to get my hands on the follow up and I wasn't disappointed. That said, it's taken me longer to work out how to review it than it did to read it.
If you've read Ink (and if you haven't why haven't you?!) you'll know about Leora Flint, the confused teen-aged, tattoo prodigy and her struggles with faith, trust, friendship, a quietly oppressive government and her own somewhat shrouded heritage. Leora has a lot on her plate, right now. In Spark (and I'll try not to spoil things too much) these struggles continue and when I say continue, I mean "get worse".
We resume to find Leora tramping through the woods, she knows where she's going but she doesn't know where it is.
Of course, I could tell you where she's going but that would spoil it. In fact there isn't too much I can tell you about Spark without spoiling something so.....hmmmmm. What do I say?
There's political intrigue and skulduggery, a young girl taken out of her comfort zone, conflict, sabotage, rebellion, double-dealing, betrayal, redemption, murder, acts of heroism and acts of war. It's well worth a read, that much I will say.
Spark is a very thought provoking book, at different parts of the book I was put in mind of Monty Python's The Life of Brian, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Soul of a Butterfly, by Muhammad and Hana Ali, without the book ever directly being remotely similar to any of them.
Alice Broadway's "slow burning" style reminded me of The Picture of Dorian Gray (a book I love) in that she keeps you turning pages even when very little seems to be happening. Every page teases you expertly onto the next, each page gently building towards the cliff hanger of an ending that isn't happy with just one twist.
There is no need for an all action, break necked pace here. Leora is still growing as a person, still developing, still learning that every story has more than one side. Of course, Alice could have given us more action, certain events within the book could have been given more graphic detail but I feel had she done this we would could have lost sight about what this book is really about, or at least what I believe it's really about.
Leora is a teenager and while she may be physically mature and artistically gifted she is still just a child, in need of guidance. As we discovered in Ink, her father has died, her mother isn't actually her mother and she's desperate to find out about the woman who did bring her into the world. Leora is naive and pliable, easily manipulated and exploited. She yearns to fit in, to belong. This is just a young girl, trying to find her place in the world but has no idea who to trust in helping her find that place and she inevitably makes mistakes along the way.
In addition to all of these quite normal teen emotions, she finds that the belief system that has moulded her opinions is fundamentally flawed, the fabled heroes of the stories she was raised with are the villains of ever so similar yet strikingly different stories told elsewhere. While Leora struggles with her evaluation of the faith she grew up in and begins to wonder if this new version of events might be more suited, she finds that this new belief system is also flawed.
Is everyone following their own version of the same thing, as Muhammad Ali believed? Was there a moment when, just as there was in The Life of Brian, a small event that caused a massive shift in belief? Was it something as simple as Brian Cohen giving away a gourd or losing a shoe that caused the people in Leora's world to follow the way of the Marked or the Blanks? Should they all do as Spike Milligan did, after Brian Cohen's followers went their separate ways, and just wander off to find their own truth?
Many of the stories told by the Blanks and the Marked lean on well known fairy stories, maybe that in itself is part of the dilemma for all of us. Is religion the truth or is it just a collection of fairy stories packaged as the truth? I don't know and neither does Leora Flint.
Am I just reading too much into what is, after all, "just" a book for young adults?
Ink and Spark are in someways representative of this debate, they are the same story but they are not the same. When I reviewed Ink, I called it a, "very clever book", Spark is no less intelligent but it is far more thought provoking than it's predecessor, yet Alice Broadway has managed to provoke thought without forcing the idea that you should think down your throat.
That's a pretty neat trick, if you ask me.
You can get Ink and Spark via my Amazon affiliate links above. Go, on....treat yourself.