Book Review: Pastworld

Pastworld London: A city caught in time.  Pioneered and developed by the massive Buckland Corporation, Pastworld is the place to escape, kick back, and enjoy the comforts of a bygone era.  But the authentic Victorian city is not as pretty as it seems: Robbers, brigands, even killers lurk in the dark beyond the street-lights’ reach.

The worst of these villains is the Fantom, a murderer of the darkest order.  For years he has haunted Pastworld, in spite of everything that Buckland Corporation can do.  The Fantom ravaged the city, leaving death in his wake, searching for the one person that understands him perfectly. . . .

Eve has lived in Pastworld for as far back as she can remember (which admittedly isn’t that far–amnesia, anyone?) with her guardian, the aging Jack.  Eve loves Jack, but believes that he limits her freedom too far–and so runs away to join the circus.  She doesn’t know that leaving the protective confines of her current life will result in more danger than she can imagine.

Caleb Brown is a visitor to Pastworld–a “Gawker,” as they’re called–and yet, he is also more than that.  His father, Lucius Brown was one of Pastworld’s original engineers, and is still very important to the Buckland Corporation.  But Caleb has no reason to think that his visit will be affected by his father’s status–until seemingly random men kidnap Lucius, kill Jack, and blame Caleb.  Now Caleb is on the run from an antiquated law system, and he’s going to need all the help he can find to outrun both the authorities and the Fantom.

English: Photograph of author/illustrator Ian Beck
Ian Beck. Image via Wikipedia

Ian Beck‘s Pastworld has a fascinating premise that ultimately fails to deliver all it offers.  This is mostly due to its pacing (which is slightly slow), its characters (who are fairly flat), and the fact that the book blurb does not describe the book accurately (which is understandable, as it would be difficult to sum up the concept of Pastworld London while still leaving room to describe the characters).  It also takes an unexpected foray into science fiction that is supposed to add depth to the story, but which is never fully explained.  Nonetheless, it was still a good read, if a little boring at times, and is infinitely better than Beck’s children’s book The Secret History of Tom Trueheart (but more on that later).

The plot is fairly straightforward for a murder mystery novel, except for the sci-fi twist that I mentioned.  However, it has several gruesome descriptions–mostly the Fantom’s. . . methods–so I so I wouldn’t recommend it for or preteens.

More about the characters:  Eve is your normal beautiful amnesiac–except for the unlikely powers that she discovers.  Admittedly, they were a good idea, except for the whole vague “It’s scientific–it’s programming–trust me, it works” tone of her abilities.  Other than that, her journal entries are endearingly sweet, but sparse.

Caleb is, again, a pretty standard seventeen-year-old boy.  He is interested in Pastworld (even if he doesn’t want his proud father to see it), and is an important part of the investigation against the Fantom.  His connection to Eve is intriguing, and his interactions with side character Bible J the pickpocket are amusing at times.  However, this doesn’t hide the fact that his character lacks depth.

The only truly 3-D character is the Fantom.  Beck perfectly represented a psychopath, a murderer with a twisted mind.  This is unfortunate for the Fantom is the character that truly drew me into the story (if only to see how he was defeated).

Now, for my comparison between Pastworld and Tom Trueheart: When I finished Pastworld, I decided to see what else the author had written.  To my surprise, Ian Beck is the very same man who wrote the story The Secret History of Tom Trueheart!  I was shocked–the style was so different. . . but why?

It must be that he’s writing for an older audience.  Since he is writing for teens as opposed to children, Beck obviously does not feel the need to patronize his readers. . . which means that I actually finished the book and enjoyed it.  (Seriously, people, what is it about writing for kids that makes authors act condenscending?  . . . But I guess that’s a post for another time.)  Anyway, it was a pleasant surprise.

If you read Pastworld (or Tom Trueheart, for that matter), let me know what you think of it!  I’d love to hear your impressions.

~River

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