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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Review: Soul Beach by Kate Harrison

A fascinating start to a new YA trilogy, publishing 1st September by Orion under their new Indigo imprint.

Find it at Amazon UK

Amazon description:
When Alice Forster receives an email from her dead sister she assumes it must be a sick practical joke. Then an invitation arrives to the virtual world of Soul Beach, an idyllic online paradise of sun, sea and sand where Alice can finally talk to her sister again - and discover a new world of friendships, secrets and maybe even love . . . . But why is Soul Beach only inhabited by the young, the beautiful and the dead? Who really murdered Megan Forster? And could Alice be next? The first book in an intriguing and compelling trilogy centred around the mystery of Megan Forster's death.

My verdict: intriguing and inventive. Left me desperate for the next instalment.
I haven't as yet read widely in the YA paranormal genre, but I found the premise of this book highly original. Combining social media, a murder mystery and the paranormal is inspired! 

The characterisation of Alice is strong and she fully had my sympathy. Harrison has drawn her well at a few months after such a shocking loss, and deals effectively with the alienation she experiences from her friends, and her parents' grief-stricken behaviour. Her growing obsession with Soul Beach is also entirely believable, as are her initial reactions to it. I found this a fairly quick read, as it drew me in and I struggled to put it down. As well as Alice's character, her feelings for her sister and the relationship they have through Soul Beach are also convincing and formed part of the book's apppeal.

The intriguing premise of a paradise acting as a kind of limbo (but only for the young and attractive dead) creates enough interest to sustain the reader, with many associated mysteries (why can't other guests see Alice? what are the rules? who decides these things?) but Harrison doesn't rely only on this. Her voice is effective at keeping us reading on its own, and there are other mysteries to ponder also, such as the unsolved murder. Occasional passages in the murderer's voice heighten the mystery and encourage us to ponder who might be guilty.

My one complaint is that there is no overall wrap-up to this book. It's very definitely instalment one of a series. Now that I have finished it and thought about it a bit more, I suppose that the book does present Alice, the main character, with a problem which she does solve to bring about the book's finale. It's just that this particular problem has been a subplot rather than the main narrative thrust. It's hard to talk about clearly without being spoilery, which I don't want to do. But trust me, after my initial reaction (but I want to KNOW...), I can see that there is some resolution which brings about progress from the start of the novel. I suppose I just usually expect each book in a series to conclude more strongly and definitively than this one does. Leaving questions unanswered is fine, but this book does that far more than any others I've read. That said, I would still recommend it as it is a good read - I just wish that the second and third books were available now!

This is my thirteenth British Books Challenge review.

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