Book Review: Fellside by M.R. Carey

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April 28, 2016
Given how much I loved (LOVED!!!) The Girl with all the Gifts (beware spoilers!), I was excited to find out M.R. Carey was releasing a new book this year. So excited in fact that I went and pre-ordered the book which I never do, especially not when I know little to nothing about the book in question. But that’s how much I loved his previous book and his writing in general, so really, it was a no-brainer.

That excitement turned into apprehension when I actually received the book a few weeks ago. What if my love for TGWATG clouded my judgement and set my expectations so high that it would ruin Fellside for me? What if I couldn’t stop my brain from comparing both books when, really, the only thing they have in common is the author?

These are actual things I worry about, people. And they haunted me (heh) for the first 10 chapters or so, but after that? I was so immersed into the world of Fellside that all apprehension left and I was in for the long haul.

I’ve been referring to this book as a ghost story that takes place in a women’s prison (or like I read on Goodreads, “Orange is the New Black with ghosts!”) because trying to say more than that without spoiling minor, but very important, details is hard and you know how against spoiling the experience for other readers I am. But the gist of it goes like this:

Jess Moulson is sent to Fellside prison for setting a fire while under the influence of drugs that resulted in the accidental death of her 10-year-old neighbor, Alex. The story begins when Jess wakes up in the hospital where her injuries are being treated with no recollection of the crime, but after sitting through her own trial, she believes the claims that she's responsible and pleads guilty. Once in prison and unable to deal with the guilt of her reckless actions, she stages a hunger strike—not in protest, but as the only means she has to end her life. But as she nears death, she encounters the ghost of Alex telling her she's not really responsible for his death... but he needs her help finding the real culprit.

I was glad that I could manage to set my expectations aside because I got to enjoy this book for what it was: an engrossing, haunting, very violent story of human nature and justice. It was a story unlike anything I had ever read before and even though it contained themes I was familiar with such as corruption in the judicial system and the murky happenings inside correctional facilities, it dealt with them in ways that felt new and different to me. It also felt real, which is one of the things I enjoy the most about M.R. Carey’s writing; he has a way of making you feel part of the narrative, like you’re there, witnessing the violence and feeling like the danger can fall upon you at any time.

I don’t know how he does it! But this is one of the reasons why he’s become a favorite in my books.

Another reason? The way he writes characters. Fellside has a very wide cast of characters, but they’re all unique and so well-developed. Because of the writing there’s a realness to these characters that it’s hard to find in some books. It wasn’t all black and white, good guys and bad guys acting accordingly; no, these characters were flawed and they acted to the best or worst of their abilities given the circumstances, every act justified, and it all helped highlight not only the selfishness, but the selflessness of humans.

The large, varied cast also helps you enjoy the book more as it moves slowly to build up the main plot. Little by little, Carey reveals characters and side plots that might feel like they have nothing to do with the main character or her journey, but that start making more sense as the story goes on, eventually converging and leading towards the climax and an unexpected but totally satisfying ending. It makes for a very intriguing book, one that made me wish I could spend a whole day reading it (or that I was a faster reader, at least!).

Speaking of that ending, though! My main gripe with most books I read is that the ending never sticks for me. I always want more or less or just something different and books rarely deliver. That isn’t to say that those books or endings are bad, just that I am easily disappointed and I have learned to deal (and prepare) for that every-time I start a new book. This time, though? I finished this book with a smile on my face, feeling very content about the way it wrapped up. It wasn’t a happily ever after ending; it was messy but felt justified and there were some unanswered questions, but you know, sometimes life works like that. You don’t always get the answers you want and you’re left anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This was a fun, gripping read that has you constantly wondering what’s going to happen next. I didn’t find it horrific in the supernatural sense, but definitely dark and brutal in the way people act and react to the circumstances—people are ugly when they’re trying to get ahead and get what they want, no matter what, and the setting it takes place in was perfect to showcase that. I would definitely recommend it for the writing alone, but the story is also pretty good. Just don’t go in expecting a spooky ghost story or hoping to find similarities with The Girl with all the Gifts because there are none. Keep that in mind and you’ll enjoy this book, too!

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