Review: Gleam, by Tom Fletcher



Most people live and die in luxury inside the Black Pyramid at the centre of the Gleam, but there are others who eke out a precarious living outside, in the lawless wilderness of the Discard.

Alan’s family was massacred by Pyramidders when he was a child. In an act of mercy, one of the soldiers took him back to the Pyramid to be raised there. But Alan has never been able to let go of the past; he has grown up angry, resentful and desperate for answers. When his continued questioning of Pyramid authority gets his wife beaten up and their son threatened, he has no choice but to return to the Discard.

When his voluntary exile isn’t enough to pacify the Arbitrators, he is given an ultimatum: bring them a mushroom with great powers, or see his son suffer.

Wild Alan is about to to embark upon a journey far deeper into Gleam than he ever wanted to go… and discover more than he bargained for.

Series: The Factory Trilogy, #1 | Genre: Fantasy/horror | This edition: Hardcover (ARC) | Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books | Publication date: 4th September 2014| My rating: 4/5

This book creeped me the heck out.

Which, despite that this review is coming much later than I’d hoped to post it, makes it a pretty good start to what I hope will be a string of horror-centric reviews and features here, this month!

Gleam is not your average fantasy story. Heck, I doubt it’s your average horror story either, though both elements are present, and strong. We appear to have a secondary world, very dystopian in flavour, and it is Not A Nice Place. Creepy through and through, in fact, and right there is where Tom Fletcher makes the strongest impression with this book. If this is any indication of his preference in storytelling, then I’m both intrigued to read his other work and a little bit afraid to…

Call it the effects of reading while on a long flight/struggling with jet lag, but I feel as though this book… Stuck to me. With me, yes, but also… to me. Like something grubby (this is going in a good direction, I promise!) or like a really bad dream. Which, if you’ve read it or you do read it, I’m pretty sure you’ll understand in short order.

Tom Fletcher writes nightmarish horror incredibly well – there was a lot about this book that got under my skin. The Gleam is not meant to be a fun place to have to live in, and this is made abundantly clear. The things it does to Wild Alan, who I suspect wasn’t much of a truly good sort in the first place, are deeply unsettling to witness. And then there’s the Clawbaby.

Dear blanket-clutching Christ, the Clawbaby.

But that’s second-half stuff, and to get it into it would risk getting spoilery – but trust me. Leave a light on for this one, folks.

Another thing that stands out about this book for me is the sense of direction it takes. Most books take you from Point A and go forward, or go along some clever sideways/up/around route that ultimately still leads forward. Gleam goes very much downward – and again, that’s a better thing than it sounds like, provided I’m explaining it properly… As well as being the route taken by the characters here to get where they intend to go by the end of the book, there’s a very deep-rooted sense that you’re right there with them. This book is intensely atmospheric, almost claustrophobic, maybe a little trippy as well. And given how prominently mushrooms are featured here, maybe that’s a given. It is, however, a really effective given.

I’m looking forward to coming back up again, is all I can say. I’m just wondering what new monstrosities are going to be at the top…

For all that it’s supremely creepy, though, there is a lot that’s fascinating about this world – which is a good thing, given that Fletcher intends to turn out two more books set in it. For a trilogy opener, this paints a pretty impressive picture of what to expect, and if it holds true to the just-getting-started ‘rule’ of any series, then I’m both keen to see where it goes from here, and (as I mentioned above) a bit nervous about it…

Which, while it may not sound entirely encouraging in a way, is really a great indicator of the result Fletcher’s got here. I don’t necessarily enjoy being creeped out, but I can respect any writer who makes it happen. Fletcher is one such writer, so kudos to him. I am thoroughly invested in this series, and if you like your fantasy dark and disturbing, then this is one for you.



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