Malorie Blackman’s latest is a love story set in space and based loosely on Shakespeare’s Othello. At just shy of 500 pages I did wonder if the story would start to drag but I found myself gripped, reading the entire novel in two sittings as part of my Jhalak Prize longlist reading.

One odd thing I did notice – usually I copy the blurb of each book I review but there was a quite noticeable error on this one. There were quite a few typos within the text as well. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book but I did expect more from a publisher like PRH!Accordingly, here is my own version of the blurb:

Vee and her brother, Aidan, are travelling through space, making their way back to Earth. A virus has wiped out the rest of the crew, including their parents. Nathan and his mum live amongst a community of humans on a planet in enemy space. When their compound comes under attack, Vee risks her own life to save as many of them as possible but is forced to abandon the planet before her own ship is destroyed.  Many of the colonists perish and a few of the survivors blame Vee for not rescuing everyone. Nathan steps in to protect her and the pair find themselves strangely attracted to one another…

The novel is told in first person and alternates between Vee and Nathan. For the first third of the novel this worked really well. Their voices are different enough (also their chapters are printed in different font) that it’s not confusing. Towards the middle I found the distinction blurred. As the relationship begins to deteriorate, their thoughts begin to be very similar and on more than one occasion I thought I was reading Vee only to suddenly realise it was Nathan and vice versa. The short chapters kept up the pace but also added to this feeling as scenes would begin with Vee and move between the two with barely a pause in action. On the upside, I did get caught up in the story and found it very difficult at times to put the book down even at 1am!

Knowing that it is based on Othello does layer familiarity over the unfamiliar world of future space travel. There are a number of candidates for the Iago character, and a pendant in place of the handkerchief, but the story is not rigidly a reboot of Shakespeare. A spate of accidents lead to deaths of several of the survivors, and suspicion is cast upon Vee and Aidan as the ‘outsiders’, despite it being their ship. I loved Vee and thought she was a lot stronger than Nathan, a more rounded character. The relationship between her and brother Aidan was also a highlight.

The central love story is of course key to the novel. I did actually fully buy into this ‘love at first sight’ – right until Blackman decided to marry them off. I was very unsure about this. It comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really add that much to the plot. It was just a bit off, if anything making me question the relationship rather than believe in it. This is no goody two shoes Twilight couple – Vee and Nathan have already slept together before this all happens so there was no urgent reason for them to have ‘joined’ as they call it.

This isn’t a perfect novel but I found it enjoyable. Whether it will make the shortlist for the Jhalak remains to be seen but we shall find out on 6th Feb.

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