Grey, by Jon Armstrong
I’m glad I read YARN first, because if I had read this first I don’t think I would have picked it up. That’s a long way of saying that this book isn’t nearly as good as the second (which is really a prequel).
GREY is focussed on the spoilt son of a big-time CEO, and his flouncing around when he doesn’t get everything his own way. It has overtones of Romeo and Juliet with – I can’t believe I’m saying this – even more pretensions, and less soul. (Also no Mercutio.) Michael is being set up to marry the daughter of a CEO whose company his own family’s company is merging. Things go wrong, Michael has to start thinking about what he wants from life, things go more wrong. Very quickly.
One of the things I loved about YARN was its world-building. I really enjoyed the attention to detail of rooms, clothes, and architecture that Armstrong lavished on his made-up world – and the language that went with a world’s total obsession with fashion. I didn’t get the same detail or interest here. The attention to fashion is still present, and is indeed one of the things that sets Michael apart from his father: Michael has dedicated himself to grey, rather than the (literally) eye-watering colour combinations of his father’s set. To the point of burning the cones in one eye so that it can only see greys. However, discussion of the slubs (which feature heavily in YARN), the ‘Ceutical Wars, the “families” and their hold over the world – these things are skimmed over with not enough depth or tantalising clues to serve as much of an insight into this bizarre world. For me, it ended up making the world and the story just so much froth.
I also struggled to connect with Michael. My co-conspirators on Galactic Suburbia had a number of issues with Tane, the narrator of YARN, but I found him an interesting and engaging enough character that I didn’t mind riding along with him. Michael just got annoying. He’s pretentious, a bit of a whiner, spoiled, and entirely too self-obsessed for most of the novel. And not in very interesting ways.
Look, I finished it, so clearly I didn’t hate it; if I could I would have given it 3.5. Possibly I finished it because I found it an incredibly fast read, mostly because the plot itself is frenetically paced. Reading it and imagining the events feels like being caught up in a whirlwind as Michael gets pushed here and there and visits this person and finds that out and oh costume change! One thing I did hate was Michael’s father’s taste in music. I understand – well, I presume – that the music of the Ultras is meant to be an ironic take on modern pop and rock and its idiocy, as well as the dark undertones of violence etc etc… but the fact that their music can actually kill because it’s so loud, but even more that some of the performers have turned killing into part of their stage routine? Not. Cool.
Definitely read YARN. If you end up being really interested in what else Armstrong imagines for that world, read GREY. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t bother.