The Paradox (2015) is the second book in Charlie Fletcher’s OVERSIGHT trilogy. I loved the audiobook version of the first book, The Oversight, when I read it four years ago. Despite its crawling pace, I loved it for its grungy Victorian setting. The audiobook narration by Simon Prebble, an award-winning superstar of the audio world, was so spectacular that I titled my review “One of the best audiobooks I’ve read this year” and I said that I’d be picking up The Paradox as soon as it was available.
But, alas, when The Paradox came out a year later, there was no audiobook and I was greatly distressed. Then, a year after that (we’re up to 2016 now), an audiobook version was finally released…. but it was not performed by Simon Prebble or any other award-winning actor! In fact, it was narrated by the author himself (in my experience, not always a good choice). Disgusted, I skipped it, but finally decided to give it a try since I did want to find out what happened to Lucy and The Oversight.
First, let me say that I am absolutely amazed at the quality of Charlie Fletcher’s performance of the audio version. It is quite excellent and I quickly forgot that I was upset about the absence of Simon Prebble. (If you are an audiobook reader who’s familiar with Prebble, you will no doubt be utterly shocked to hear me say that, but I’m sticking to it. You can just click the book cover up there to go to Amazon and listen for yourself.) And, Mr. Fletcher, I’m sorry that I wrongly assumed you didn’t have it in you. You do! Wow! Great job! There are several minor errors in the audio production — repeating sentences that didn’t get edited out.
Anyway, now to the plot. The Paradox starts immediately after the climactic events of The Oversight (which you really need to read first). The remaining few members of the Oversight (a group that guards the border between the old and new worlds and maintains the balance between them) have just had a battle with the Templebanes and both sides have incurred losses. Now the Oversight is at its lowest point in its history. Mr. Sharp and Sara Falk, their senior members, are both (separately) missing beyond the mirrors. That’s a dangerous place and they could be killed before they find their ways out. Hodge has lost his vision (but, fortunately, can see through the eyes of his dog). Lucy and Charlie are merely children who are being trained by the elder members of the Oversight. So, the Oversight is weak, but they still have the Wildfire, the Iron Law, and a full Hand.
On the other side, the Templebane family wants revenge on the Oversight and the adopted boys of the family, vying amongst each other for prominence and the respect of their father, are each plotting its destruction. Amos, the young mute Templebane boy, is on the run and (we hope) may turn on his family. We follow him as he meets a possibly crazy woman who, like Amos, can read people’s minds. Then there’s John Dee (yes, that John Dee) who lives behind the mirrors and studies them, along with other arcane arts, hoping to find a path to immortality. He has some evil allies in London. And the frightening creatures called the Sluagh (think evil elves), who’ve been hampered by their inability to cross cold iron (e.g., train tracks), are searching for a way to break the Iron Law.
The Paradox is very similar to The Oversight: grungy and gothic, beautifully written with some striking imagery and excellent world-building and character development. Just like the first book. All of Fletcher’s characters are unique and intriguing and we learn more about their backstories in this installment. New characters are introduced, too, and we finally find out what happened to the 85 members of the Oversight who disappeared years ago.
However — and this was a big problem for me — the plot unfolds painfully slowly and it meanders, feeling like it’s lost focus. I had been hoping that the pace would pick up in book two, after all of the characters had been introduced and we felt comfortable with the setting and the magic system. But instead, the pace seems to have slowed even further and not much really happens, or maybe it’s more correct to say that The Paradox’s 415 pages are way too many for the amount of plot included. The book reads beautifully but never really picks up any momentum, making it feel like the dreaded “middle book.” But many readers, I think, will disagree with me on this and won’t mind feeling stalled in Fletcher’s slow-moving grungy scenery.
The final OVERSIGHT book is The Remnant. I’ll be reading it next.