The brightest jewel in the Project Renova series recommended to those who love complex storytelling.
I received an ARC copy of this novel but that has in no way influenced my review.
I have been following Terry Tyler’s Project Renova from the beginning (you can check my reviews for Tipping Point, here, for Lindisfarne, here, and for UK2, here) and loved all of the novels, getting more and more personally involved in the adventures and with the characters, that became part of the family, as it progressed. When a trilogy comes to an end and you see readers wondering what happened next and pestering the author for more, you know this is not just another dystopian adventure.
Before I get into the detail of this novel, which is fabulous in case you’re wondering, I must say that my recommendation is to read the four novels in the intended order. The series is written to be read as a whole, and the books are not independent. Although this novel introduces many new characters, to fully appreciate the project (yes, I know) and the overall effect, you need to be familiar with the complete story so far. But don’t worry, though, if it’s been a while since you’ve read the other novels, because the author includes a link to “the story so far” before the new novel starts, so you’ll be able to quickly refresh your memory.
This is the most structurally complex novel of the series. Although all the books are narrated by several characters, and that is the case here too, and in UK2 we had different settings as well, this novel takes us back and forth in time. After a brief interlude that follows directly on from the last novel (and there are a few of those interspersed throughout the text, but very brief), Part One is set in 2127, a hundred years later, and we go back to Norfolk, where we meet Bree, a young girl who lives there, and Silas, a traveller. This gives us an opportunity to learn what has happened in that period all over the UK, at least in large strokes, and also to meet two young people that, at least to begin with, we don’t know how they relate to the rest of the plot. Part Two goes back to 2089 and we learn about Sky, who lives in a Northern settlement called Blackthorn. Although she lives a life of luxury, we soon learn that she is in a minority, and the place sounds like a dystopian nightmare (if you’re familiar with Huxley’s Brave New World that part of the story will give you pause, and women will be particularly horrified by that possible future), so it’s not surprising that she ends up taking a fairly extreme decision. Part Three is set in 2050, and in this case we follow the next generation of some of the characters we had left in the last novel, particularly Phoenix. Part Four, set only two years after the last novel, in 2019, reunites us with Lottie, my favourite character of the series (and I’m not the only one). Part Five is set again in 2127, and we see what happened next to Bree and Silas and we get a sense of how the whole story fits and see the bigger picture. And the last bit of the story, back in 2027, answers a question that most people will be wondering about.
Does this mean the story is confusing? Not really, but if you’re trying to find connections and work out who everybody is from the start, you might feel a bit lost. My advice would be similar to what I used to tell people who were reading William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: even if you can’t see where things are heading, keep reading, because it will all fall into place. And it is fabulous. In fact, the way of telling the story works wonderfully well to emphasise the theme of legacy, the fact that family lines, and especially people’s behaviour, mark those who come into contact with them and is carried through the generations. The structure made me think of novels such as Cloud Nine, and movies like Pulp Fiction, and if you enjoy a bit of a challenge when it comes to the way a story is told, this will add to your enjoyment.
The epic story (a saga) is narrated in the first person in the present tense by the different characters, and that gives it immediacy, making it easier to connect with them, even when sometimes we might know that things are not what they seem to be, and at times we might know much more than the characters do, and that give us a fascinating perspective. The story works well, and as I said, everything fits in, but the author has a particular skill for creating vastly varied characters that are totally believable, and like them or not, we can’t help getting involved in their lives. Lottie continues to be my favourite character, but Bree and Silas are great as well, and their relationship is heart-warming without being overly sweet. Both of them have doubts and reservations, and they prove their feelings with actions, rather than meaningless words. Even the less likeable characters have a heart (well, at least the ones we meet personally) and I was surprised when I felt sorry for some of them, whom at first I had thought of as unredeemable.
I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, because the story has to be read. The writing is fabulous, descriptive enough without ever getting boring, and the characters and the events narrated will make you think about known historical figures, religious beliefs, and about what moves society, and what is truly important.
I am pleased to read in the author’s note that she is thinking about writing some novellas and possibly a novel set in one of the places we visit here. Although I loved the story and the ending as well, I know I’ll keep thinking about the series, and I won’t be able to resist further incursions into this world. And yes, I’ll be one of the readers pestering the author for more.