Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Bernice Summerfield; The Glass Prison

Before I start the review can I just say ‘yes’ to the cover.

The covers for the first few novels weren’t ‘bad’ as such, but they weren’t very distinctive. The range changed with the launch of series two of the audios and Dave Stone’s Infernal Nexus, but fittingly that cover was as mad and ludicrous as the content of the book itself. Finally, on the fifth attempt, it all just seems to come together. It’s striking, evocative, moody and deeply personal. It’s just… right.

The novel comes from the range’s first returning author, who impressed by being the first of the new novels to really delve deep into Bernice Summerfield’s head and write a novel from an incredibly intimate perspective. This novel though is twice as intimate, twice as dangerous and ten times as rewarding.

Firstly the setting is perfect, showing a loved character at her lowest moment. Whilst hard to actually envisage practically, the concept of the Glass Prison is chilling. Once again the Fifth Axis are hard at play, and a particularly nasty character from the Doomsday Manuscript makes a long overdue return.

It’s not much of a lie to say Bernice doesn’t actually do anything in this book. At the start she puts on a show of defiance and begins a half hearted murder enquiry, but it’s the cast of characters she surrounds herself with who carry the novel forwards. This is a book about loosing control, and eventually Bernice is forced to spend the book on her back wondering, worrying, about what is happening around her. It’s a powerful situation.

Fortunately her new companions; Claire, her midwife, and Sophia, possibly the best creation in the last five books period, are more than capable of carrying the book. Both characters are warm and instantly likeable, but both with their small areas of doubt. They are the only two characters for the reader to rely on in a novel full of loathsome creations.

The appearance of a cult is a familiar concept, but they play their role well and are important in bringing the story forwards. Gripper, Benny’s fourth cell mate, treads the fine line between menacing and misunderstood right to the end. But the real villain of the piece does nothing but stare from his vantage point on the next floor, watching, waiting.

And predictably Bernice leaves the novel with a baby; a beautiful boy. It all ends a little too neatly, (spoiler: glass shattering at the sound of babies cry, really? This one incident leading to the complete downfall of the Fifth Axis, really?) but the novel isn’t about that. It focuses on the inhabitants of the prisons, on the fear and love and loathing that fill the terrible place. And as a particularly dodgy doctor descends on Bernice with a knife to perform a caesarean the novel gains a momentum that leads right up to the last page.

Like the cover, this is just a book that gets it right. But, surely, in that picture, shouldn’t Bernice look a little more swollen?

10 / 10

1 comment:

derekbd said...

Thanks for this.

I have the first 5 BF Benny paperbacks; I see the least I would have to pay to get this one is over 50 bucks. Drat.
If anyone has a line on an e-book version please contact me: derekbd1970(at)gmail.com

There was a guy on demonoid who upped pdf files of all the Virgin Bennys and was going to continue on to the BFs. I wish I could find him.