The first time I read the synopsis for Jack Croxall’s Tethers, I instantly knew that it was undoubtedly a book I very much wanted to read. A YA (young adult) novel set in the wake of a Victorian winter, where teenagers Karl Scheffer and Esther Emerson stumble upon a journal full of strange passages. Upon reading, Karl soon discovers both Esther and his names on the last page – a possible prediction? Quite abruptly, our lead teenagers soon realise that they have been pulled into a sinister conspiracy surrounding a strange otherworldly stone known as the Viniculum. Where will this bizarre purple stone lead them and what does the pictures Karl sees within in stone truly mean?
It’s a very addictive and engaging plot indeed. It moves along at a nice pace, giving you plenty of time to get to know the characters, but also tempting you further along the pages, desperately wanting to know more. At first glance, Tethers seems to be a warming story of adventure gone awry, but as you get sucked into the real conspiracy at its core, the adventure slowly transforms into a complicated thriller. It has got bags of atmosphere and when the science element of the story is slowly revealed, it becomes even more fascinating.
What I loved about the story was how it starts off with Karl and Esther sneaking into a house to steal a look at a metal box, which ultimately leads them on a quest to the coast. This section of the novel took me back to my younger days when I use to read Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five stories. It really does feel like a good adventure, but with added danger of a possible murder.
Our two main characters, Karl and Esther, really do capture your attention, especially if you love YA novels. The dialogue between the two is perfectly written, with ounces of realism and humour chucked in for good measure. It is in these exchanges where we really get to know the two teenagers; Karl is often the more conservative out of the two, pondering morals and behaviour, whereas Esther is feisty, spunky and full of charming wit. Jack Croxall has provided us with real people whom we can really get behind and root for. And that is no easy feat. It’s a fun male/female dynamic that doesn’t mess around with love or attraction; giving the rapport of friends full centre stage. This is a refreshing idea and makes their bond that much stronger.
Jack Croxall also brings this novel to life with some great accents. Not only does it give the characters some locality in the world, but it also makes them more three-dimensional. If all the characters spoke the same, they would immediately become wooden and transparent, but thankfully there’s none of that here.
It can easily be compared to Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockheart stories, because of the Victorian time period, but for me, Tethers is a completely different sort of novel altogether. The rural setting of Shraye gives rise to wonderful descriptions and mood; something that is delivered differently in Pullman’s work. Whether it be the rustic feel of dilapidated barns and lovely narratives of the pastoral natural world or the tit-bits of factual detail perfectly hidden within dialogue, you really get a sense of what life was like in the Victorian Countryside. It could be the subtle reference of commercial change (how the railway took away business from the canal boats), the use of specific Victorian illnesses such as ‘consumption’ or the use of archaic terminology that really gives us its Victorian era ambiance.
Sometimes, it can be extremely hard to find a voice in writing, but Jack Croxall seems to have found his almost instantly with her first go! His writing is extremely sharp and well-defined. You really get a sense of the author behind the words and he easily uses elevated language to give the reader respect. He uses a fantastic and faultless balance of imagery with vital action orientated sentences and the paragraphs just flow off the page. When you can get lost with the words, you really know that it is a great absorbing read.
What I really love about Tethers is the added element of fantasy that just spices things up a little more. With a storyline that revolves around an otherworldly stone, it can be difficult to see where it may lead and that is a good thing. It keeps you guessing. Despite working extremely well as a stand-alone novel, its great (and annoying) to see a huge cliff-hanger at the end. It shows us that there is something even more deeper and ominous at work than what is revealed in here. As with almost every other part of this novel, the fantasy and realism is in perfect balance with each other, making things fantastical believable, yet the realism more harsh and accepted.
There really is a great bunch of characters in here, but sometimes you can get the feeling that some of the minor characters should get more involved. There is a character called Vivian, that has a pretty important scene roughly halfway through the novel, but towards the end, she becomes a little redundant; let’s hope she features again in the second novel. But saying that, it never loses its chemistry by having too many characters. I also love how the character of Harland takes our little heroine, Esther, under his wing to teach her the art of swordsmanship; which ultimately leads on to some pretty entertaining sword fights.
If I were to pick out a downfall of Tethers, I’m afraid it must be the chapter upon where our protagonists find themselves in Nottingham. Earlier in the book, Jack Croxall gave us wonderful literary imagery, but in Nottingham it is somewhat limited. I would have loved to read about the life and times of this great place. In an era where change was great, full of industrialisation and fantastic discoveries, surely more goings on could have happened. The characters get through Nottingham to their destination just a little too quickly for me. More description of environment would have really set this part of the book alive and given opportunity for the reader to observe the great differences between Victorian life in both the countryside of Shraye and the urban lifestyles of Nottingham.
I loved this novel; it simply fulfilled the expectations the blurb promised and introduced us back into a time often forgotten. The heavenly marriage of fantasy and realism heighten the novel’s impression and with a great variety of characters (of all ages) means you can see the faultless chemistry between them all. It’s a novel that has very different levels; starting off as an entertaining adventure story, albeit with a hint of eeriness on the horizon, before exploding into a sword swashing, rifle firing gem of a book that gives you not only original imagination, but also rational science in an era where invention and technology was in a boom. Tethers is an adrenaline fuelled, action packed, smart thinking tale that captures your attention and leaves it aghast that you have to wait until the next story in the series to find out the profound conspiracy at its heart. Jack Croxall is an exciting new author to watch, mark my words.
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