My review of Winter Smith: London’s Burning by debut author J. S. Strange
by J.S. Strange (Goodreads Author)
Awarded 4-stars **** (really liked it)
What an achievement for a 21-year-old to have written and published a book of over 400 pages in length. Congrats, J.S. Strange, you’re a star.
It seems that people can’t get enough of zombies, whether in books or movies. The zombies are satisfyingly gross in this novel, although I’m confused why some people get bitten and become zombies straight away, some take their time, and some seem to stay dead, while only one gets mentioned as rising from the grave. Doubtless, all will be revealed in Book 2.
I love the central protagonist, 17-year-old Winter Smith, who’s had the misfortune to be born to rich socialite parents who keep shoving her in the limelight and allowing the Press to write all manner of rubbish about her, such as her struggle with alcohol and drugs, when all she wants is to be your average girl next door and get on with living. Basically, she has no friends and no chance to enjoy a private life.
Connor is the ordinary young guy who Winter invites to a big party her parents are throwing, just to cheese them off. I won’t go into details about the gatecrashers to that party, albeit to say that zombies are no respecters of social class when they’re feeling ravenous. Thus Winter’s first date with Connor is one to remember, taken on the run to prevent them becoming dinner. What do I think of their relationship? Under any other circumstances than a zombie apocalypse, I doubt that it would have come to anything.
Then there’s Violet, who has to whore to support her dying mother and two young brothers. Um, Violet is complex and I found myself wildly swinging between feeling sorry for her, to wholeheartedly despising her and wanting to ring her neck. The latter kicked in when the author suddenly jumped to her viewpoint about two-thirds of the way through the novel. This rather did my head in, when everything had been through Winter’s viewpoint up until then. Retrospectively, I decided there was no other way to handle this bit of the story, so all is forgiven. With regard to Violet’s relationship with Zach, as with Winter and Connor, it’s a case of two people being thrown together by extreme circumstances who might otherwise not have noticed each other.
This novel is a real page-turner. Somehow, the author manages to handle in-depth characterisation and scene-paint without resorting to heavy description, while taking the reader on a journey at the speed of an express train. At first, I had difficulty with his tendency to tell rather than show when it came to dialogue tags and the overuse of the word ‘feeling’. For instance, Winter was feeling anxious, feeling scared, feeling nervous, etc. Whether I got used to this as the novel progressed and didn’t notice it anymore, or the author ironed out this flaw, I’m not sure. The likelihood is that I was so breathless with excitement about what was going to happen next that too much showing rather than telling might have slowed down the plot and annoyed me.
There are a few clunky sentences and a tendency to divide words that are usually written as one word into two. The opening pages of the novel were exciting, but I’m not sure that we needed to know all the people’s names involved (three of which began with the letter ‘S’) considering that they were all short-lived characters. But this is all minor stuff and the pernickety editor in me working overtime.
In summary, this is a darned good debut novel and if I was a literary agent or publisher trawling Amazon looking for a young writer with huge potential to sign up and nurture into a future career as a bestselling author, I would leap at the opportunity to represent J.S. Strange.
To my delight, J. S. Strange has agreed to guest post on my blog later this month, plus being my August guest storyteller! A double treat to look forward to, for us all.
Meanwhile, you might like to read his book, which is available in paperback and on kindle. Also, if you hurry, there’s a promotion running until Friday, 10th June, which means the book will be available to download onto your Kindles for free!