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Carrie Patel's The Buried Life is an interesting, though flawed, debut novel. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which cities have gone underground and technology has regressed to 18th century levels - trains but no cars or dirigible, nothing steampunkish here in terms of a more developed science built on earlier forms of technology. We are not told anything about the nature of the cataclysm, nor of the time that has passed since it occurred. We do learn quickly that what knowledge has survived is heavily controlled - history is a state secret, some literature of the past is freely available while some is fiercely repressed, and science seems strangely absent. In the city of Recoletta, absolute power seems to rest in an unelected Council, and class distinctions, based on wealth and power, are rigid.

This is a cautionary tale about power, secrecy, censorship and corruption, masquerading as a post-apocalyptic political thriller with murder and mayhem in great supply. It is strong on character and the trappings of a ripping good detective mystery, but doesn't quite manage to bind its disparate goals and narratives together. The solution to the mystery arrives too piecemeal and without appropriate emphasis and completeness for the mystery reader to be happy, and the deeper narrative about how power and resistance too often share the same mistakes seems too slightly woven into the story.

And it is disappointing that in the end, one of the characters that seemed to be a hero was seduced by the sweetness of power - though one might hope that there would be a sequel in which said hero regains the moral clarity needed to look beyond it.

Some good ideas and interesting characters, but not quite satisfying. Still, I'd like to see the story begun here developed further.


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