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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Fandom by Anna Day. From an idea by Angela McCann. Frome: Chicken House, 2018

This novel was the result of two competitions run by Chicken House. One of them was the Children's Fiction Competition, the other the Big Idea Competition. So the winner of the former wrote a book based on an idea by the latter. A strange thing, really - if I had a fabulous idea, I sure wouldn't want to give it to someone else to write! Still, it seems to have worked for these two.

The idea is a fascinating one - not totally original, but still fascinating: what if you suddenly found yourself in the universe of a book of which you're a huge fan? Not in a nice world, either - in this case, it's the universe of a bestselling YA dystopian that was turned into a major film. And what if you then unintentionally helped kill off the main character at the start of the story, five minutes after you arrived?

This is what happens to four teens who arrive in the universe of YA dystopian novel Gallows Dance, written by Sally King, an author who committed suicide before she could write the expected sequel. Violet and her friends Katie and Alice and Violet's younger brother Nate are attending the London Comic Con, in costumes based on the film. The only one of them who isn't actually a fan is Katie, who hasn't read the book or seen the film, giving the other characters the excuse to explain things to her.  Alice is stunningly beautiful, tall and elegant and a candidate for Britain's Next Top Model. She is also a very good  - and well known -fan writer, who has been creating her own Gallows Dance stories on line. This is important in the later part of the novel, but no spoilers here. Nate is also knowledgeable about the book, and the smartest of the four.

While getting selfies taken with the actors from the Gallows Dance film, the four collapse and wake up to find themselves in the Coliseum, an area in which the upper-crust, genetically engineered Gems come weekly to watch Imps, members of the unmodified lower classes, hanged. The story of the novel had the heroine throwing a thistle bomb to distract the audience while rebels rescued the latest victims, but Katie, who didn't know this, sees what she thinks is the actress about to throw the grenade and shouts a warning to her, resulting in her death - at the beginning of the story! The rebels do arrive, taking the teens along with them, but now what?

Violet finds out, early on, that the only way for her and her brother and friends to get home is for her to take over the role of Imp Rose, the book's heroine, and complete the canon. It will give her the excuse to kiss the gorgeous Willow Harper, Gem hero of the novel. There are only two problems: one is that she soon discovers she prefers the lesser male character(you know - those YA novels in which the heroine has to choose between two hot boys?) and two - and most important - Rose was supposed to die at the end of the novel! Then Willow is supposed to urge his fellow Gems to tear down the gallows and  reunite the human race. If it doesn't happen, they are stuck in this world.

Violet has a week to win the trust of the rebels, win the love of Willow Harper - and hang. Oh, dear...

It wasn't funny, as I'd thought it would be when I heard about it - this universe is nasty and dangerous and Violet and her friends are in as much danger from the Imp rebels as they are from the Gems.  But I did enjoy the pop culture references scattered throughout the novel. The Hunger Games and Divergent were referenced, as was Twilight -  at one point, Violet wonders how Robert Pattinson felt when Taylor Lautner arrived on the set, and feels a little embarrassed to realise she is falling for the Jacob character instead of Edward.

Interesting to read a novel in which fan fiction is so important. Alice's fan stories were all Mary Sues in which various versions of herself got to romance Willow Harper, but she and her fan fiction are vital to what will happen to this world. And the thing is, that's what fan fiction is about.  Not for nothing is the title The Fandom.

As I said, not truly original. It was being done in classic SF and fantasy many years ago. Fredric Brown's What Mad Universe has a science fiction magazine editor finding himself in a universe which is based on pulp fiction, in which the hero is a version of a loony writer whose work he had rejected. Fletcher Pratt and L Sprague De Camp wrote a series of stories in which the characters use mathematics to get them into the various universes of literature. In Marvin Kaye's The Incredible Umbrella, the hero buys an umbrella that takes him to the world of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas - and others... And so on. There are even plenty of fan stories in which female characters travel to their favourite universes and romance their favourite characters.

But I admit it's the first time I have encountered it in YA.

I'm not sure I liked the ending of this one, but no matter. It's a readable book with non-stop action.

For good readers from about fourteen upwards.

If you want to get this in ebook, you might have to settle for Kindle - I found it on iBooks in four languages, none of them English! There was an audiobook, though. You can get it in print on all the usual web sites or in your local bookshop.


AJ Blythe said...

Sounds interesting but the ending has me worried. These days I really only want to read those books that have a true HEA.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I don’t blame you! It’s not that the ending of this one is exactly grim - it isn’t. But what happened to one of the characters... No. I didn’t like that. YA is going that way these days, unless it’s, say, the romantic comedies of Lili Wilkinson(and even she is going dark recently, dammit!) But I’ve seen even worse. There was Care Factor Zero, for example, by an author best known for her humorous books, in which the heroine leaps to her death in despair on the last page. And others, plenty more of them, with horrible endings... I have no doubt the author of this one would say,”But it happens in the real world!” to which I’d reply, “Then don’t write fantasy!”

A latte beckons said...

It's a shame this book isn't funny -- I think I'd definitely read it if it was! Poor teens could do with a bit more lightness, the real world is dark enough :(

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, I found that aspect a bit disappointing. If I had my druthers, it would have been a sendup of the whole teen dystopian thing, and the characters would have found the whole story unravelling as they tried to get it back on track. But that’s me, and I’m not a teenager. And they LOVE their dystopians, as this old teacher librarian knows well! I guess finding yourself in one of those fictional dystopian worlds for real would be pretty scary! Even more so knowing you had to get killed in that world to get home to your own. I’d just rather it didn’t work out quite the way it did.