Monday, April 11, 2011
Fallen Star / Ian Barker
Editor's note: As mentioned in a recent post, we are adding additional reviewers. This is the first review by one of these new people and there will be more in the coming weeks. Some of our reviewers are from outside the US. This means you'll sometimes see non-US spelling and other conventions in keeping with appropriate usage in the reviewer's home country. Ceallaigh is from Canada.
Reviewed by: Ceallaigh
Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words
Availability Kindle: YES Nook: NO Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store
Ian Barker has written comic verse "for more years than [he] cares to remember." In addition to a career in Information Technology, he is the editor of PC Utilities magazine, and a contributor to its sister publications. Originally, from Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Baker now lives near Bolton, in Greater Manchester. Fallen Star is Barker's debut novel, published by Rebel ePublishers. For more information and samples of his verse as well as prose, visit his website.
When Karl Weston left school at 16 to join the boy-band Fallen Boys, he was swept into a fantasy world of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Now the fast ride is over, and Karl finds himself alone in London with no real career, no real talent, and no real friends. When he meets Lizzie, a mature, sensible girl (and Karl's opposite in nearly every way), Karl has the chance to build his first meaningful relationship, but he discovers that honesty and maturity form no part of the life he knows. An attempt to revive his floundering career as a media idol may mean the end of his hopes of a future with Lizzie. Karl is forced to choose between easy but empty fame, and what, for him, is a new idea - the promise of hard-won but lasting happiness.
Fallen Star is, as the genre terminology would have it, an edgy coming-of-age novel. When I say 'edgy', I want to be right up front with what I mean: I spent the first few pages of this book squeamishly thinking "Young Adult? Really, for sure?"
Having said that, let me also say that I would hate to have that reaction on my part scare anyone away from this book. In the first place, the content itself (casual sex, drugs, rather a lot of masturbation and penis-centric conversation/action) is not graphic. In the second place, the frequent instances of these behaviors/attitudes is only in the first few pages - it serves to 'set the stage' (quite literally) of band life - the stage that is about to suddenly go dark for the protagonist. But, most important of all, as Karl grows in the book, the events of the first chapter appear in a worse and worse light. In the end, the message is that the shallow and self-centerd fantasies of a sixteen-year-old boy may be fun, but the man who acts on them will probably never get a real girlfriend.
The plot of the book is a modern take on an old, old story, (bad boy meets good girl, strives to become the man she wants) but it is the interior action of Karl and Lizzie rather than the external plot that really drives the novel. Through Karl's slow and incomplete emotional development and Lizzie's only half-willing participation in his spot lit world, the reader is led to consider not only the hollow nature of fame, but the fact that these hollow people cause real hurts. Their fifteen minutes of fame can do a lifetime's worth of damage to the innocents they trample along the path.
The characterization in this novel is exactly strong enough for what the author seems to be doing here, which is forcing the reader to think about the issues Barker is (sometimes subversively) raising. I often found myself questioning the actions that both major and minor characters took, but each time I realized that I was being led to consider a larger message. The culminating point for me was the moment when some time after finishing the book I found myself thinking "My gosh, I think that was an anti-war novel!" Attitudes to war and racism, represented in the plot by Karl and Lizzie's fathers, who were on opposite sides of 'the Troubles' in Ireland, are a source of minor conflict through the novel. Barker's quiet, almost unnoticed juxtaposition of 'what it means to be famous' with 'what it means to be a hero' may lead the reader to some surprising conclusions.
I think it's fair to say, then, that there are two ways in which this book is 'edgy', and I believe the importance of the second far outweighs any minor offense that might be given by the first. The story is quite good enough to keep the reader turning pages, but of even more value, I think a number of readers will find themselves turning over ideas long after the last page.
This book contains multiple sexual encounters, none graphic but some very objectifying of women. In the opening scene with the band, there is drug use, and one character overdoses. The sexual content is in keeping with the immature character of the protagonist, but the negative effects of his selfish attitude are not made apparent until later in the book.
The novel is British English and contains many slang terms and location references not familiar to an American audience.
No significant issues
Rating: **** Four stars