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  1. The Amber Fury is a first novel and, I’m afraid, it shows. Set in contemporary Edinburgh, we find Alex Morris starting off a new role providing drama therapy within an educational unit for kids who have been thrown out of mainstream schools. We soon learn that the role was made available by her former university tutor as a favour to allow Alex to escape from London and her grief following the death of her fiancé Luke. But how far has she exchanged one uncomfortable situation for another? The real trouble with the novel is that the plot, pacing and structure seem to operate in competition with one another. Attempts to drip feed information to create dramatic suspense lead to the earlier narrative feeling wrong. For example, why would Alex be focusing all her thought and all her narrative on one class when, as an educator, she would have taught many classes? There is a reason that becomes apparent towards the end of the novel, but only at the expense of the bulk of the novel feeling awkward. But had the reasons been laid out early on, it would have ruined the tension. A bit of a dilemma. This also has an impact on the pacing, which is slow with the first half of the novel (at least) giving little indication of where it was going. This was addressed with asides to the reader along the lines of ‘at this point nobody had to die’, or ‘if only I had walked away at that point’. I paraphrase, but the tendency to rely on prolepsis to cover up a slow story is pretty clunky. And the language is clunky. Alex’s narrative feels leaden and soporific. There’s a great focus on the geography of Edinburgh (which is impeccably correct) with little actual sense of place. Aside from the basement teaching room in Rankeillor Street, the rest of the city seems to be nothing more than the location of specific transactions. Where the text is interwoven with the diary of one of the kids, it provides some level of relief, allowing a fast track to understanding motivation. But this is the only real source of three dimensional characterisation. Alex’s narrative – perhaps blunted by grief – is just flat. There are also some elements of legal and police process that don’t feel right – and indeed seem to be inconsistent from the first part of the novel to the second. Some of the behaviour doesn’t quite feel right either, particularly Alex’s compulsive Friday meanderings. On the positive front, the story is intriguing and when (eventually) the story takes off, it is quite compelling. At the end, it feels as though it was more enjoyable than it felt whilst being read. The parallels between the Greek tragedies and modern day play out well, albeit they are spelled out quite heavily in the final pages. There is enough in the way of ideas to make one curious to see where Natalie Haynes takes it next – and hopefully she will iron out her difficulties in technique in due course. Overall verdict – worth reading, but only just. ***00
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