“When Dr Parsons finally ran out of alternatives and reached the word ‘cancer’, he moved past it so quickly I almost thought I’d imagined it.”
Having recently fallen in love with Mark Lawrence’s fantasy series, Book of the Ancestor, I jumped at the chance to get this sci-fi offering, billed as Stranger Things meets Ready Player One. It ended up living up to neither for me, but still a decent read.
Nick Hayes may be a mathematical genius at 15, but he’s as unprepared as anyone to be told he has leukaemia. As he starts chemotherapy, he distracts himself with his D&D sessions with his friends, including a newcomer to the group: their first girl, Mia. But he still has to put up with the psychotic school bully, and a strangely familiar man who might be stalking him…
Teenagers with cancer, in the 80s no less, turns out to be a bit of a trigger for me. I was kinda happy that the author got a few bits wrong (contrary to popular imagery, chemo often leaves its victims bloated from steroids, not concentration-camp skinny). As the book goes on and Nick’s story involves more than just hospitals and life expectancy odds it was easier to cope with this bit of the story, but possibly for the first time I feel like offering a warning to other readers.
That aside, I wouldn’t suggest this story hits the heights of either of the ‘meets’ titles. The 1980s nostalgia is fairly light – mentions of using phone boxes and a few tech oldies aside, I’m not sure I would have noticed the ‘period’ setting much, which was ever so slightly disappointing. The characters are fine, but the teenage-ness of it all did little for me. I was put in mind a bit of Neil Gaiman’s Interworld; it all felt a bit for-younger-readers.
Plot-wise it’s difficult to say much without spoilers, but the group of teens end up on a quest that doesn’t feel a million miles from their board games.
Overall, I enjoyed this but it’s not grabbing me anywhere near as much as Red Sister. Still, sequel already started, and I’m curious to see where the story could go.
NetGalley eARC: 201 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Impossible Times book 1 (of 3)
Read from 5th-8th May 2019
My rating: 7.5/10