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13) Sarah Pinborough -- The Death House

This is my nominee for the 2015 novel Hugo.

Yes, I liked it that much. I bought this YA speculative fiction novel when I saw Gollancz tweet an opening day offer, because I'd greatly enjoyed one of Pinborough's tie-in novels and wanted to read more by her. I started reading it that day, and was bowled over. It is a stunning portrayal of life, love and growing up under the shadow of death; a bittersweet coming-of-age novel about children and teenagers who know they will never do so.

It's set in a near future very much like our present, save for one thing - there is an illness so terrible that all children are tested for the signs that they are carriers. If they test positive, they are taken to the Death House. There they will be cared for and given as normal a life as possible, right up until the time the sickness activates. It may be a few months, it may be years, but one thing is certain - they will die. And they will never be allowed to leave, or have contact with anyone other than each other and the staff assigned to care for them.

Toby has been in the House for long enough to have found ways to cope with the separation from his family and the knowledge of what awaits him, but the arrival of a new girl disrupts both the interactions between the Death House inmates, and Toby's coping mechanisms. Through his eyes we see the different ways the children deal with what their lives have become; all the emotions of a lifetime compressed into a few short years, with the teenagers like Toby finding themselves being surrogate parent figures for the younger children. There's a mystery plot as well; and the whole is a slow-burning build to a resolution where the older children decide exactly what is worth fighting for with their foreshortened lives.

Moving and beautifully written, this was one of the best things I read all year.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo
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Five murdered poker players from different eras are brought back from the dead for one last tournament. The prize is life itself.

The book opens with Wild Bill Hickok finding himself pulled from the grave, his bones clothing themselves with flesh and the flesh with clothes. The reader follows along with Bill as he tries to work out what's going on and why he feels an urge to go to Atlantic City, although the reader has an advantage over him in being able to recognise the present day and just how much time has passed. Another four men from different time periods have the same experience, although one is so recently dead that he is able to convince friends and family that he'd been kidnapped and held incommunicado for several years. As they gradually assemble, they discover that they have been revived for the greatest poker tournament in history - between the greatest players, no matter when they lived.

The result is an atmospheric blend of ghost story and mystery, with some superb world-building going into the strange casino that has revived the men. The characters are well developed, and it's a joy to watch their interaction, and their different reactions to the present day. Those reactions are driven in part by their different reasons for wanting the prize; not just a new life in a recreated body, but what they want to do with that life. A chance at love, a chance at revenge, fascination with this new world they find themselves in... Even for the four losers, their short time walking the earth again allows them to do at least a little of what was left undone.

A lovely short ghost novel for Halloween, with the emphasis on the human soul rather than on horror.


direct from Book View Cafe, with excerpts available
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia

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August 2017

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