Book Review: Fellside by M.R. Carey
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (April 5, 2016)
Length: 496 pages
After the brilliant novel that was The Girl with All the Gifts, I swore to myself I would read anything else M.R. Carey writes. Not long after, I was practically beside myself when I found out he was going to be writing a ghost story.
Turns out, Fellside is a very different kind of ghostly tale, and not exactly in the horror vein. Instead, it’s a little bit of mystery, a little bit of paranormal, and even a little bit of court drama, all bundled up in a wonderful package along with Carey’s unique brand of imagination and creativity. The story follows Jess Moulson, a junkie convicted after she set fire to her apartment complex following a heroin bender, accidentally killing her neighbor’s ten-year-old son who was home alone. Even though Jess has no recollection of the events that went down that night, the court ruled it as murder and sentenced her to life in a maximum security prison called Fellside.
Jess is haunted the moment she arrives, not only by the ghost of Alex Beech, the boy she killed, but also by the shame, loneliness and guilt she feels from all the mistakes she made in the past. But instead of plummeting her further into darkness, the spirit of Alex actually rescues her from the abyss and gives her a new sense of hope. Jess immediately makes an enemy of a fellow prisoner named Harriet Grace, the boss of G-Block, when she refuses to run drugs for Grace’s corrupt racket. The road to redemption, Jess believes, is not to commit even more wrongdoings, even though she is aware such attitudes might eventually get her shanked in a place like Fellside. But she has a purpose now, and she is determined to see it through to the end even if it kills her.
In a book like this, there are not a lot of sympathetic characters. In fact, the beginning of Fellside made me boiling mad, and not just because of all the healthcare professionals, prison guards, and other authority figures who were corrupt and/or incompetent, but also because that seemed like such an easy way out for an author to paint someone as a villain. Even someone like Jess took time to grow on me, given the complete and utter disaster she was at the beginning of the story. After all, it is hard to sympathize with someone who has abandoned all hope, becoming entirely convinced of her own worthlessness. However, I now know that Carey set it up this way for a purpose; Jess had to fall far before he could raise her up again and juxtapose that to the new person she becomes. Even so, my favorite characters ultimately came from the most unexpected quarters, mostly minor bit players like Shannon McBride, Fellside’s resident storyteller, or Lorraine Buller, Jess’s taciturn yet compassionate cellmate.
The story also didn’t hook me right away, mostly because of its many moving parts that didn’t all come together until the second half of the novel. I didn’t care much for the humdrum chapters on Harriet Grace’s drug-running ring, for example, at least until that plot thread collided with Jess’s. Things became many times more interesting when the story morphed from a prison drama to a full-blown mystery. While I plodded through the first part of the book, I must have read the last two hundred pages or so in a single sitting, so energized as I was at the plot’s new direction. I definitely found the ending to be stronger than the beginning, even though it started running along a more predictable path. There was a court scene which was especially played up for dramatic effect, but hell, I ate it all up. I could hardly have made myself put down the book by that point.
Even if you enjoyed The Girl with All the Gifts, it’s difficult to say if you’ll enjoy Fellside, simply because the two books are so different. Fellside is not your typical ghost story, more suspenseful rather than creepy, and I can see it appealing more to mystery fans than horror buffs. Still, there are some mirroring themes. As ever, Carey is fond of keeping his readers in the dark right up until he springs the big surprises. And then there are scenes of intense violence, but when all is said and done, we’re also left with a spark of hope.
Finally, of course, there’s the author’s writing itself, which is as bold and hauntingly evocative as I expected. No disappointment there, as far as I’m concerned. If anything, this novel demonstrates Carey’s versatility and my admiration for his talent has actually increased. While it took me some time to warm up to Fellside, I ended up really enjoying the story’s poignant look at life on the inside of a women’s prison, as well as the memorable characters you’ll love to hate and hate to love. Recommended for fans of paranormal mysteries and suspense.