John Shirley, ‘Bleak History’

I was in two minds about whether to write a review for this one, as I don’t think I’ve given it my full and fair attention. I was about half way through and then went away for a long weekend, leaving it behind in favour of the mobile library that is my iPad, and didn’t get back to it for a couple of weeks. But half the purpose of this blog is to record thoughts about my library books, so I can remember what I’ve read and whether I want to read any more of it. And this was a library book. So here goes.

This has a good premise. It’s one of those stories that comes from the question “If some people were revealed as having supernatural powers what would happen?”, but it takes the question further than many and develops more options and interesting twists. Ostensibly, it’s a story about the conflict between the people with powers and the government agency created to ‘deal with’ them (in a variety of increasingly disturbing ways), but as the story progresses we learn more about the context, the hidden agendas and the forces lurking in the background. The central character, Gabriel Bleak (the title’s a bit too cheesy for me but I can live with it), is one of those who can manipulate energies to produce supernatural results. He’s become a natural loner, not really happy with the idea of joining up with his fellows in the supernatural world, but despite tragedies in his past he’s still able to connect with people and open himself up to the possibility of love and companionship, which is where the story takes him.

What I did like about this book was the complexity of the moral issues and the way characters didn’t have their actions limited by the ‘side’ they appeared at first to be on. What I was less grabbed by was the love story: the introduction of a mystical link between the couple seemed to me to take away a lot of what could have been interesting about their developing relationship. It’s an action-packed story, well told, with varied, fully-fleshed characters. I just don’t know why it didn’t hold my attention the way I feel it should have. Probably a case of right book, wrong time.



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