Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 23 September 2017
So to begin we're not actually beginning at the beginning, but sometime closer to the end of the story, it is ten years after, although what the after is we don't know. Mark Strachan is telling a story while 'looking out of the window at the upper floors of the high-security wing opposite' about an event when he was young to someone whose part in this story we don't know. His story is vivid and packs a punch almost straight away-I could tell this character had issues and was very likely to be telling of something that had played a part in something he had done (hence the 'after') or the person he had become.
We are shot back to twelve years before where Mark is starting in boarding school, noticibly without any of the parental support other have. I think books like this hit me hardest, with characters that would be so different if they had a family who showed them the love they so craved, and Mark is a character I'll probably be adding to my 'best of' list come the end of the year. Luckily, he falls in quickly with the lovely Will, and you get the impression that they'll both have each other's backs. We're shown a lot of how the boys get on and interact, and I really enjoyed both the banter and light/ dark humour. Then things happen, and one fateful night we see Mark saving Will, but at the cost of another lad's life.
Mark is an interesting character, where Will is an open book, we constantly wonder whether secretly all the bad luck that piles up in stacks around Mark, is actually his own doing. When I say bad luck, there are a number of events that take place over their lives, most involving expanses of water, that are so real, you feel the fear, the panic, that comes with being trapped under water. (There are a number of these, and you do wonder why they choose to stay anywhere near water!!)
The outstanding imagery also left me in no doubt that this was to be a beautiful read (I was to be correct!) Actually, I have to admit here that I can sometimes have to force myself not to skim over imagery, but I couldn't even consider that here, it was second to none, powerful and vivid and amazing.
We are told there's something in his eyes that make people nervous, yet the author is pretty excellent at showing us Mark's point of view, making us worry that all the bad luck that befalls him ISN'T because of him. This is an interesting book because it has a hint of all the light horror stories I read as a teen (I know, you'd never know, would you?!) and it had me hooked.
There is the added dimension of his home life, where we wonder about his mother, and see him gravitate towards Will's family. The jump comes when both him and Will fall for two women who are twins, and so we know they're bound together for life. So begins a chapter in Will's life where he truly has someone to love. I have to admit I read through this somewhat impatiently, and sometimes was confused, in particular as to their family dynamic, which I didn't find so clear, waiting for something bad to happen, and when it did, when we found out what Mark did, we were placed in a scenario of having to find out if it was intentional, planned. To get Marks viewpoint throughout this, while looking at the prison system and seeing the differing opinions of Mark on the outside and through the prison employee's eyes, was excellent. Actually it was Mark's time in prison I enjoyed the most as Mark tried to communicate what had led him to this point, his horrendous past and I really empathised (special mention for Fitz, who broke my heart) and noticed that he was possibly the most human bad guy I have read to date. I read this book as I would watch a film, and the last scenes played out perfectly, with my heart in my throat. If I am to find any issues with this, it's the descriptions of the timeline, I think I'd have rather to have just been given the dates as opposed to this 'x years before or after, ' but, saying that it probably won't bother most, I also found some parts a little confusing, but more seasoned readers of this genre will figure it out! I would highly recommend this book.