Pastworld by Ian Beck

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Pastworld by Ian Beck

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A wonderfully original take on the Victoriana theme so popular in children's books at the moment. In the future, London has been restored to its Victorian state and turned into a theme park. This complex but accessible thriller takes place within it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 1408802260

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In the future, London has been restored to its Victorian state and turned into a theme park. Pastworld prides itself on its authenticity and indeed many of its full time residents don't even realise that they're living in a fantasy recreation of an old reality. Eve is one such. Cossetted and over-protected by her guardian, Jack, she feels a desperate need for freedom and runs away to join a travelling circus. Here she discovers not only the truth about Pastworld, but some remarkable, almost supernatural, talents.

Caleb knows Pastworld's story only too well. After all, his father was one of its founders and prime designers. He's looking forward to his first trip there, hoping to escape the dull uniformity of life on the outside. But he's not prepared for the lawlessness - when Jack is murdered and his father kidnapped by the ragged men, working under the Fantom's orders, Caleb finds himself accused and on the run in a place so authentic that the death penalty still exists.

Caleb and Eve have more in common than they know, and events are conspiringly very dangerously to show it...

I really enjoyed Pastworld. There's a great deal of Victoriana around at the moment, particularly in the fantasy genres. There's also a great deal of future dystopia in thematic backgrounds. Here, Ian Beck combines the two in a thoroughly original way. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine a London of the future turned into a gigantic theme park, is it? Beck's visitors - Gawkers - are unpleasantly voyeuristic and this calls to mind today's intrusive celebrity culture, together with the news reports about the money to be made at illegal fights. Eve, of course, pulls in The Truman Show in her ignorance of the world around her. Underneath this run equally contemporary questions about the use of scientific advances, and whether corporations should ever be in charge of research.

I'm making it sound complicated, but it's actually extremely accessible, pacy and tense. Beck is a very sensuous writer and the sights and sounds and smells of Victorian London come vividly to life. The mystery that links Eve, Caleb and the Fantom isn't hugely difficult to work out and older readers should manage it by about halfway through but younger readers may take a little longer. There are also some disturbing scenes - I'm not one to say a bit of blood and guts makes a book unsuitable for anyone, however young, but in Pastworld the scary bits are much more thoughtful, sometimes with undertones of sexual violence. If you've got a keen, but sensitive, reader of under 12 in your house, I'd read it first just to make sure there isn't anything that would stop them sleeping at night.

There's bags of originality in this book and I'm happily recommending it to all keen readers with the proviso above.

My thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

There are more echoes of The Truman Show in The Inferior by Peadar o Guilin. London makes a fantastic appearance in Un-Lun-Dun by China Mieville. A bloodthirsty neo-Victorian narrative will please them in Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann.

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