Disclaimer: I recieved a free ARC of this book from NetGalley. In no way does this effect the content of my review. If you’d like to read my review policy, click here.
Three years ago, Ben’s beloved friend and tutor Jason died in mysterious circumstances. And he begins to wonder if his old friend Hobie had something to do with it…
When troubled, quiet Ben begins at the ruthlessly competitive Cottesmore House, school to the richest, most privileged boys, he is befriended by Hobie: the wealthy class bully, product of monstrous indulgence and intense parental ambition.
Hobie is drawn to Ben because he can see the Otherlife: a violent, mythic place where gods and monsters roam. Ben has unnerving visions of Thor and Odin, and of the giant beasts that will destroy them, as well as Loki, god of mischief. Hobie is desperate to be a part of it.
Years later, Ben discovers his beloved tutor Jason is dead. And he can’t help wondering if Hobie – wild, restless, dangerous Hobie, had something to do with it…
Beguiling, shocking and richly imaginative, The Otherlife is about the darkest impulses within us all.
Before we start, let’s all just take a wee moment to appreciate the sheer HOT DAMN beauty of that cover. It is one of loveliest I’ve seen this year and I practically have hearts in my eyes looking at it.
Take one part heavy metal, one part teenage friendships and one part Norse mythology and what do you get? Well my friends, I’ll put you out of your misery and tell you. You get The Otherlife, by UKYA author Julia Gray. Told from the dual perspectives of childhood friends Ben and Hobie, the plot is sold as a beguiling mystery, sizzling with visions of Norse Gods and magical realism.
Ben’s first person narration is interspersed with Hobie’s diary entries, which is usually exactly the sort of structure that I love. Instead, I found that although the perspectives were distinctive, the jump between voices and timelines made it a little bit difficult for me to get to grips with. In fairness, this could be because I was reading a PDF copy on my Kindle app, which didn’t always show the headings indicating who’s perspective the chapter was written from. This isn’t the fault of the author, and I assume that these will exist in the published paper and e-reader copies of the book.
The Otherlife exhibits the sort of writing that you usually find in contemporary YA and although the synopsis focuses on the central mystery, a good portion of the book is dedicated to exploring parent-child relationships, family units and the intense friendships that we develop in our early teens. I really appreciated the presence of both realistic familial and platonic relationships, which are so often overlooked in favour of romantic attachments. Gray makes interesting and emotional observations about the impact that our family and friends have on our personalities and choices, and it is in these parts of the book that her vivid writing and strong characterisation shines through.
Despite the central mystery (and trust me I love a good whodunnit), the pacing for the first three quarters of the book was pretty slow, and I found myself putting it down to read other things. I liked the Norse mythology slant, and I found it to be a really interesting addition in terms of the context of learning about a new subject. However, I’m not convinced it added much of anything to the book until the last couple of hundred pages, when Gray really picks up the pace.
The ending of this book was by far my favourite part, and I actually raced through the final few chapters with renewed interest. The story culminates in a vivid climax, where the fantasy element of the novel is really allowed out to play. A little bombshell about one of the characters that I definitely didn’t see coming is snuck in and the resolution of the mystery is one that I think most readers will find pretty satisfying, even if like me, it takes them a long time to get there.
I definitely haven’t read anything like The Otherlife this year, and even if it isn’t quite my cup of tea, I think that it definitely brings something unique to the UKYA table.
- Author: Julia Gray
- Publication Date: 7th July 2016
- Publisher: Andersen
- Pages: 416
- Rating: 3/5
- In short: Intriguing and unique, but not quite right for me.