The 10-day festival, spanning 60 events and 10 venues around Derby, includes interviews with BBC North America Editor Jon Sopel, musical family the Kanneh-Masons, and BBC Special Correspondent James Naughtie.
It’s a coming-of-age novel(la) framed through the prism of an invasion of the United States. Sinister forces, including those from within, enable a country-wide shutdown, with only the major cities protected. This leaves James, his sister, and a handful of younger kids to protect their town.
It’s a potentially interesting idea, if a little cliché.
But there is a major issue with the book – much of the content isn’t suitable for its supposed target audience.
Who is Sheltered Aimed at?
Sheltered is allegedly aimed at middle-graders (that’s ages 9-11 UK readers). At first glance, this makes sense. It reads like a middle-grade novel.
However, there’s an unnerving level of violence for this audience.
A dog is shot – its spasms of death detailed as the shooter proceeds to kick it repeatedly. Rape is referenced on at least two occasions. The reader is told that the ‘smell of burning flesh was pungent’.
This is all violence that belongs in a YA novel, or older. I cannot in good faith recommend this book for younger children. It’s just not aimed at the right audience.
Which raises the question – who is Sheltered really for? Because i‘m not entirely sure.
It falls into a problematic limbo where it’s too simplistic a read for the YA audience and too violent for the younger demographic. The subject matter is incredibly serious, so the reader expects a serious examination of the invasion. Why did it happen? What are the actual motives of these invaders?
Are there any moral quandaries the characters face?
Sheltered offers little detail – bar graphic detail – which leaves the reader confused. Is this a middle-grade novel? Certainly not. Is it a YA novel? Not really, no. Is it for adult readers? No.And therein lies the problem.
The central conflict of the novel is that China, Russia, Iran, Mexico(?) and other countries that – and I quote – ‘hate America’, have invaded. Aided partially by US-based agitators (who also hate America), the nation quickly descends into a Mad Max-esque state of anarchy.Only, James and a handful of kids are left alone to fend for themselves against the invaders.
The details of this invasion are not given. It’s a simple case of foreign enemies and national traitors seeking to destabilise America.
It seems dishonest and a little crass to use the USA’s real political opponents to serve as faceless antagonists. Especially if you’re aiming this book at younger children. They’re evil simply because they’re on the other side.
This is compounded by the fact that James, the protagonist, serves as something of the moral compass for the older characters in the novel. And yet even he buys into the ‘foreigners and traitors vs America’ narrative.
It’s a plot that, once bought up, needs to be explored in more detail, or scrapped entirely.
The Positives of Sheltered
Sheltered is not without its merits.
There is a clear passion in the writing. Jacob Paul Patchen’s novel is written with genuine heart and honesty. Its focus on family and comradeship is touching, and there’s an authenticity to James and his father’s relationship.
As James recounts his story to the younger children, he demonstrates an all-too-rare playfulness that, when twinned with their bond of fraternity, is pleasant to read..
And despite its clumsy execution, moments like this give the novel a much-needed extra dimension.
However, the fact remains that Sheltered is a book with very limited appeal.
The writer’s passion comes across, and that’s commendable, but it’s not enough. The story & characters are basic and the level of violence explored in this middle-grade book is extraordinary.
I’m not certain that this book has found a true audience, and with this in mind, I cannot really recommend Sheltered.
Sheltered: When a Boy Becomes a Legend is available to purchase on Amazon.co.uk in both eBook and paperback.
For more information on how Tales from Absurdia reviews are scored, please check out the Review Rating System.
Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.
However, this latest bout reveals deeper issues relating to the power dynamic between author and blogger.
For those not in the loop, author Lauren Hough recently published her debut collection of essays Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing. It sounds like a really great read. Based on the critical reviews I’ve read, it also sounds like an immensely personal work, which is perhaps where the tension lies.
But not content with carving out a place in the UK’s vibrant indie publishing scene, Head Badger and beard connoisseur Paul Handley has been working hard over the past 12 months to create his very own literary sett in the heart of Derbyshire.
I caught up with Paul ahead of the store’s opening to find out why – as a relatively new indie publisher – he opted to open a retail space.
“When I started Bearded Badger Publishing Company in Jan 2020, my vision was to be part of the community, and having a retail base is integral to that.
Basically, a place to come and have a browse, a chat, and hopefully one or two might buy a book. I hope Bearded Badger Books will be more than just a retail unit.
Also, as an newish indie publisher, I know how hard it is to make a mark on the world!
Firstly there’s the whole Amazon thing – I’m not anti-Amazon, but their business model is based on volume above all else. I want to offer something that is the antithesis of that!
Our shop is small, very small, but our range will be curated almost, with a lot of focus on the indie / small press network. I read a lot of books by small presses, I’m rarely (if ever!) disappointed… I guess I just want to share that with others!
It’s sounds obvious and probably a little bit of a cliche, but I love books. We will still do our pop-up social evenings, with poetry / book reading, and we will still support festivals and events…obviously once circumstances allow.
I want my headstone to read ‘He was the Lawrence Ferlinghetti of Derbyshire’!!! (I’m only semi-joking here!!).”
Paul Handley, Owner @ Bearded Badger Books
Based in trendy Belper shopping arcade, The 1924, Bearded Badger Books is due to open on Saturday 17th April, 2021.
If you’re local to the area and it’s safe to travel, do pop by and support a new indie bookshop.
In the meantime, why not follow Bearded Badger Publishing on Twitter and Instagram for all the latest info
Blighted by the effects of climate change, humanity looks to the stars.
The Rings of Mars,a ‘spy-fi’ thriller, sees mankind begin a mass migration to Mars in an endeavour to preserve the future of the species.
However, not everyone supports the evacuation. The journey aboard the shuttle Sleipnir sees cracks begin to emerge amongst the crew, revealing the fragility of social cohesion in a high pressure environment.
It’s a great concept, though the novel isn’t without its issues. Pacing is a problem, characters feel undeveloped, and frequent grammatical errors threaten to undermine the reading experience.
The 500 passengers are selected by a combination of fitness exams, job aptitude tests, and then, finally, a ballot. Onboard are botanists, engineers, medics, and all kinds of people necessary for society to function properly. Together, they seek to create Mars’s first ever viable community.
Amongst these spacefarers is Jane Parker, a botanist with a surprisingly diverse skill set (well, she is the protagonist after all) and a strong moral constitution.
Pitted against Jane, and the journey to Mars, is the ‘anti-departure movement’, reminiscent of the modern-day anti-vaxxer. Working tirelessly, they plot against the project to leave Earth.
It’s an effective way to build tension but disappointingly, the movement is never explored in any great depth. This is somewhat reflective of the novel itself – characters, though likeable, lack complexity. And ideas, though potentially exciting, fully underdeveloped.
For example, there are several moments that suggest the antagonist is studying the crew in order to sow discord and use their fears against them. But this never really gets going.
The writing style exhibited in The Rings of Mars is mostly fine. The story is narrated well, and Foucar’s style is very readable. But infrequently, the narrator inserts themselves into the novel. (and not in a meta way). For example:
“Captain Stover cleared her throat and everybody shut the fuck up again”
“History was being made by the world’s most legendary pilot and Patrick Edwards, a mediocre dickhead with the right last name”
These bizarre outbursts just don’t belong in the narrative. If these expressions came from characters, it would make far more sense.
Another more serious issue is with grammatical errors.
Ordinarily, there wouldn’t be a need to mention them, but Sci-fi lives and dies on immersion. And the immersion in The Rings of Mars is constantly undermined by the frequent misuse of apostrophes. There’s a clear confusion between plural and possessive, which really should have been spotted by an editor.
It’s frustrating because despite these more obvious flaws, the novel is a delight to read. But the clumsy narrative voice and frequent grammatical errors will severely impact some readers’ enjoyment of the novel.
The Rings of Mars’ Sci-Fi Goodness
Despite its shortcomings, there’s still a lot to love about The Rings of Mars. And where the novel truly shines is the setting’s attention to detail.
From the shuttle’s external architecture – including the titular rings that hold it together – to the internal mapping, the Sleipnir feels immediately familiar. The bridge, the captain’s compartment, the canteen, the breakout zone, and the sleeping quarters… all of these places feel truly lived in.
This kind of immersion is lightning in a bottle for sci-fi writers, and it’s a genuine delight for the reader. The love that went into The Rings of Mars’ visual imagery is what holds the novel together.
“Being out in space, really out in space, made him feel small. Insignificant. The universe was a vast expanse that humanity had barely begun to explore, and he was just one person. It was cathartic, putting his life into perspective.” Pat takes a space walk with Kaitlyn
Another notable positive is the inversion of gender roles. Far too often in fiction, a male action man takes control, only to (temporarily) be thwarted by a seductive, window-dressing femme fatale. Foucar plays with these conventions in a smart way and builds upon what is now a dated trope. This leads to some really interesting character moments.
As for the characters; they’re not groundbreaking but they’re strong enough to support the narrative with Alex, Danni, and Pat three of the stronger characters.
The Rings of Mars tells a good story fairly well.
The ending, wrapped up unsatisfactorily over a handful of pages, is undeniably disappointing and the sloppy grammar does let the rest of the novel down.
However, despite these shortcomings, there’s still a lot to love about The Rings of Mars.
The setting aboard the Sleipnir is fantastic and very well-realised. Yes, the characters could have done with more depth, but they’re likeable and mostly relatable. Plus there are some decent narrative twists.
The Rings of Mars is well worth a read if you’re into light sci-fi drama. Especially if a revised edition is issued with corrections made.
The Rings of Mars is available to purchase on Amazon.co.uk in both eBook and paperback.
Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.