June 07, 2021

Ryan Leslie: "The Between" (ARC Review)

Title: The Between  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Between (1st of ?? books)
Author: Ryan Leslie [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural (technically it would be Portal Fantasy, but since I don't have a Fantasy Room on the blog, I decided to shelf this one as Supernatural - that's the closer I could get), Multiverse, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2021
Age: 16+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Wild, engaging and entertaining, lives up to its exciting premise. Includes a physically disabled Indian female deuteragonist.
Cons: Some character glitches. A few confusing flashbacks/visions (though they'll probably get explained in the rest of the series). Cliffhanger ending/unanswered (yet) questions (if you hate those).
WARNING! Horror and gore. A short S&M sex scene.
Will appeal to: Everyone who loves game-like structures and larger-than-life scenarios/adventures in their books.

Blurb: While landscaping his backyard, ever-conscientious Paul Prentice discovers an iron door buried in the soil. His childhood friend and perpetual source of mischief, Jay Lightsey, pushes them to explore what's beneath. When the door slams shut above them, Paul and Jay are trapped in a between-worlds place of Escher-like rooms and horror story monsters, all with a mysterious connection to a command-line, dungeon explorer computer game from the early '80s called The Between. Paul and Jay find themselves filling roles in a story that seems to play out over and over again. But in this world, where their roles warp their minds, the biggest threat to survival may not be the Koŝmaro, risen from the Between's depths to hunt them; the biggest danger may be each other. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this book from Parliament House in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way.

YOU SHOULD BE A-MAZED

What can I say - I'm a sucker for wild, trippy stories where I can't find my footing πŸ˜…. And in that respect, I can happily report that The Between delivered what its blurb promised, and even more. Starting with a mysterious underground library and proceeding through a maze of identical sitting rooms, only to plunge its characters (and readers) into a world full of riddles, layers and horrors, this book kept me entertained and wanting more all the way through. Mind you, there are a lot of questions and only a few answers, which can be disorienting at times, and a few flashback/vision scenes that keep hinting at a larger picture but make little sense at this stage - though I trust them to find their proper place once the sequel (sequels?) comes (come?) along. I can't be more specific because spoilers are just around the corner, but I can tell you two things:
  • This isn't a Jumanji/Ready Player One scenario. The Between is BOTH a videogame AND a real (if twisted, and more like surreal) place. At this stage, I only have a theory about the way those are related, but they're NOT the same thing.
  • If you're a horror aficionado, you'll probably have read darker (or at least gorier) books - except for a certain scene. Nonetheless, when it comes to the creepy factor, the story doesn't disappoint. [...] 

ROLE PLAYING

I have to admit that, if I had clicked with its characters as much as I did with the actual story, The Between would have been a 5-star book for me. The best way I can describe my problem with them (or some of them) is by using a computer-borrowed term - glitch - and yeah, I guess the videogame scenario influenced my train of thought πŸ˜‰. So, basically, I felt like some of them glitched. While I understood that their whole experience in the Between - mainly, their taking over roles in that game-like world - warped their original personality, I found it to be an insufficient and not always fitting explanation for their changes or behaviours. For instance, a certain character I warmed up to, and whom I expected to see trying to resist their role, not only fell prey to it (which, OK, is understandable), but suddenly did something inconsistent with both such role and their pre-Between identity. I understand that TB isn't a coming-of-age novel, but it seemed to me that the characters either didn't acquire new skills/insights except the ones that went with their role (as one does in a real game - so that could be intentional, but I didn't love it), or got twisted in a way that their role alone couldn't account for. Honestly though, those "glitches" can very well be me nitpicking, and I have to admit that Paul grew on me over the course of the story, while on the other hand my expectations for Supriya, the badass amputee Indian athlete, were warped somehow - even if she went on being, well, badass. I liked Paul's wife Julie a lot (despite her being scarcely on page), and I can only wonder where she's going from here...Also, there's a valid reason why some of these characters would be drawn to the Between (while other are just along for the ride, but get sucked into it nevertheless), and that's a clever little touch.

JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH

If The Between were a standalone, we would not only have a cliffhanger on our hands, but tons of unanswered questions - not to mention, we would never get to visit more levels of the game with such thrilling names as The Garden of Before and The World in Pieces 🀩. I couldn't believe there wasn't going to be more, so I asked the author on Twitter if he had a sequel planned. He confirmed there's one in the making, plus he'll publish a novel set in the same world next year. Now I can barely contain my excitement. In the meantime, I encourage everyone who likes peculiar and twisty stories, creative world-building/imagery, funny/horrific worlds, and unlikely heroes with unfulfilling lives and/or lingering traumas, to give this first installment a try. As for me, I'm going to reread it soon, both to bask in its delightful weirdness and to look for all the clues I may have missed the first time around.

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13 comments:

  1. I have to give the author credit for a somewhat different take on the in-between. I have seen that many times before, but it sounds like the author made it their own.

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    1. He did! One would expect something sci-fi, and it's supernatural/fantasy-based instead.

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  2. I am all at once intrigued, thoroughly confused, and weirded out by this book, haha. I'm really glad you liked it. The warning sure as heck wasn't what I expected though!

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    Replies
    1. You mean the S&M scene? LOL, I'm glad it was very brief. You know me and sex in books πŸ˜‚.

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  3. That sounds all kinds of interesting and weird.

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  4. Wow, this book has my name ALL OVER IT! I actually only skimmed a little bit over your review because this is a book I can definitely see myself reading in the future and I didn't want any spoilers or extra info not from the blurb. Also, of course, I'm excited about the disabled representation. And the concept has really drawn me in. This one will be going onto my reading list - I'll tell you my opinion once I get around to reading it.

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    1. You don't need to be afraid of spoilers - I have a River Song stance about them πŸ˜‚. Anyhow, I'm really glad I put this book on your radar! I hope you'll like it!

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  5. Oh wow this looks like a trip! I never know if I'm going to like a story like this, based on a game-like premise, but sometimes they can be good! And I'm glad to hear there's going to be more. Sometimes a story just needs a sequel...

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    Replies
    1. This is a bit different from your usual video-game-premise story, because it actually plays out in reality...so you might like it more?

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  6. I don't know why, but this sort of reminds me of Danielle Vega's books. It sounds really interesting though and I love that cover. I'm surprised that there is an SM scene???

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    Replies
    1. I looked her up, and I think I know what you mean - Survive the Night? It must be the skull on the cover LOL.

      Ha! It's a very brief scene (thank goodness), and it's due to the characters being warped by their new reality, it seems.

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  7. It can be hard to just go along for the ride and trust that you're going to get answers and it'll all make sense eventually, but I guess you kind of have to with trippy books, and when it's done well, the payoff can be great. This sounds interesting!

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