REVIEW: Pastworld by Ian Beck

164. Pastworld by Ian Beck
Publication: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (September 29, 2009), ebook, 368pp / ISBN 1599900408
Genre: YA Sci-fi

Read: December 8-10, 2011
Source: Singapore Public Library

Summary from Amazon:

What if all of London were really an amusement park—a whole city returned to Victorian times to entertain visitors from the twenty-first century? That’s the wildly original premise of Ian Beck’s Pastworld, a high-stakes mystery set in a simulated past.

Eve is a lifelong resident of Pastworld who doesn’t know she’s living in a theme park until a mysterious threat forces her to leave home. Caleb is a visiting tourist who finds the lawlessness of the past thrilling—until he suddenly becomes a fugitive from an antiquated justice system. And in the midst of it all, in the thick London fog a dark and deadly figure prowls, claiming victim after victim. He’s the Fantom, a creature both of the past and of the present, in whose dark purpose Caleb and Eve will find their destinies combined.

Page-turning, complex, and haunting, Pastworld masterfully exposes the human experience of the past, of violence, of technology, and of entertainment.

Review

I’ve been wanting to read Pastworld for a while now, since I keep seeing so many good reviews about it. Now that I’ve read it I’m sort of…underwhelmed. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been let down by all the positive hype, or because I was expecting it to be something different, or if it’s just one of those things where I don’t exactly love a book everyone else seems to adore, but I only feel a little bit positive about Pastworld instead of absolutely in love.

The author

So. Okay. I love the whole idea of a Victorian historical theme park. I especially love that it’s a dangerous theme park, where you could be killed or, I assume, get some sort of horrible disease. I’ve been interested in the idea of “history towns” ever since I read Transmetropolitan, where they have towns recreating the past and the future. It’s a really exciting idea! Would you want to go visit Victorian England for a bit? Or 1920s New York? Or any other interesting time period? I certainly would!

Of course, I’d hope that when I got there I wouldn’t be immediately killed, maimed, or otherwise harmed. I suppose those sorts of towns would be safer for white rich men than anyone else, which is a shame. I like the idea of recreating history but not when it means the majority of the world would be unsafe when going to visit. Ugh.

ANYWAY. Yes, love the historical theme park thing. However, as much as Victorian London plays a part in the book, the real stars are the characters. I’ve mentioned this before but I’ll say it again: characters are very important to my enjoyment of a book. If I don’t like reading about the characters doing stuff I won’t like the books– and I didn’t like reading about these characters overly much.

The problem comes from the fact that nobody seems to have any true emotions. It’s like they’re feeling stuff through a heavy layer of fog. Eve especially has that problem, and I don’t know if it’s because she’s actually an emotionally stunted person or if it’s because she’s a teenage girl being written by an adult dude. Even the best adult dudes have trouble writing teenage girls sometimes, I think. Maybe it IS just the writing, since Eve and Caleb and basically EVERYONE has that “emotional fog” problem. So someone would feel scared, for instance, and they’d say they were scared and other people would say that person was scared, but I never actually thought they WERE scared. It was just unbelievable to me.

I also couldn’t stand how Eve was presented as this beautiful, fragile, helpless, doll-like person. Pretty much every (male) character said “poor Eve” at one point or another1, and I couldn’t see why they should. Yes, the spoiler-y thing regarding her life is tragic and horrible. But she can take care of herself and she’s not, actually, a victim. It’s like the emotional fog problem all over again: Eve’s supposed to be a victim, and everyone sees her as a victim, but I never thought she actually WAS a victim.

So there were, to me, a lot of problems with Pastworld. The setting was awesome, the story was pretty good, and despite her emotional issues I liked Eve a lot. However, the rest of it was somewhat terrible and the more I think about it the more I find to critize. Oh well.

Rating


It had some good points, but it wasn’t as good a read as I was hoping it would be.

Buy

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Other reviews

The Book Smugglers: “One is the reason why so many books do not work for ME as reader: the lack of a character to truly connect with. Both Eve and Caleb are ….weird. I truly can’t find a better word to explain it. Caleb’s reaction to his father’s kidnapping was very strange. They never truly felt real to me although to be fair, in Eve’s case, there is a pretty good reason for her oddness.”

Wondrous Reads: “Although I didn’t feel a strong attachment to any particular character, the idea and execution of Pastworld more than made up for that. It was such a huge novel in terms of imagination and scope that I don’t think it needed as much focus on the characters — the haunting, dark images it created were enough to support it.”

slightlyhazy: “While the story was clever and I really enjoyed the atmosphere the writer created, the story felt rushed and all the action was carried out very quickly. It seemed that too much was left unexplained and the characters were developed too quickly.”

Notes

Credit
The author’s photo comes from Goodreads. It’s not mine! Book cover comes from Amazon. It’s not mine, either.

Footnotes

  1. along with a comment of how beautiful she is. Is beauty really all that’s going for her? Because I can see a few other positive traits as well, ones that are more important than symmetry of the face, for instance.

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