Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Marbury Lens

I can't tell you how long it's been since I picked up a book that I couldn't put down. You know the kind. The kind where you finish what you planned to read at 11, but you just have to keep going, so four chapters later it's 12:30, and your next day is shot. Well, actually I can tell you. It was, like, a couple days ago. And it's called The Marbury Lens.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a advanced reader copy of Andrew Smith's latest effort (thanks Andrew), and found myself unable to put it down until the very last line. The story differs a bit from Smith's past novels (Ghost Medicine, In the Path of Falling Objects) with a bit of a science fiction twist.

I've tried writing a plot summary a number of times, but no matter how hard I try, I can't do it without giving away something I wouldn't want to know as a reader. So, we'll just say that Jack finds a portal to another world, with another Jack, and can live in both worlds. Though Marbury is no Eden--imagine a white desert wasteland with no food, water, or clothing where "devils" hunt people just to do so, and the carnage is devoured by dog-sized, roach-like "harvesters." Um, and lots of people are dead, so there's mad, crazy ghosts, yo.  WTF!

As horrid as Marbury is, Jack can't keep himself from going back. Could you? I think the best thing about the novel is how each situation just begs for you to consider what you would do in the same situation. If you had this magic in your pocket, could you keep yourself from using it? I mean, interdimensional travel is pretty badass, n'est pas? I'd be there, no matter who cracked out the other dimension is.

The story is dark and brings you to places you probably don't want to go inside your own mind and heart, but ignoring those places and pretending the world is a safe and happy place isn't good for you either. In the end, Marbury, and Jack's battle within himself as he tries to stay away and preserve his relationships and sanity, become more than a literary metaphor. They become a metaphor for what's going on inside you as you read the book and deal with your own demons. Reading Marbury isn't just an adventure, it's a personal emotional journey for the reader. Smith forces you to deal with your own "devils" before you're engulfed by the harvesters in your own life. It's an experience, but not one for the faint of heart.

The prose is just as melodic and poetic as Smith's previous works, so if you're put off by sci-fi, don't be scared away from this novel. It's about as realistic as apocalyptic, interdimensional travel can be. The short paragraphs, short chapters, and rhythmic pacing make the 350+ pages go by quickly, and the carefully unraveled mystery will have you turning the pages at record pace.

But perhaps the strongest facet of the novel is Smith's ability to make the reader feel the same jones for Marbury as Jack, while giving that same reader enough to look forward to in our world to keep it interesting when not in Marbury. The ultra-interesting, sexy, and lovable Nickie (she's also British--how cute) and the relationship with his best friend Connor make for an interesting narrative grounded in what we see as reality, while the adventure and action in Marbury keep pulling us back. In the end, I was left sad I'd never see Marbury again, as grotesque a place as it is, because I was done with the book.

Now, I have to give you fair warning. If you're one of those beach-reader types that like everything clear cut with a nice little bow on top, you're looking in the wrong place. There's enough ambiguity to drive some mad, while others will revel in Smith's gift--letting us figure things out for ourselves. This is a smart read as much as it is a fun one.

The Marbury Lens is YA, but will hook teens and adults alike. While the violence and action can be graphic, and there's enough cursing and sex to turn off prudes, it's nothing teens haven't heard or seen before on the old boob tube. All in all, I liken it to a complex, dark concept album by a raunchy rock band, so if you like to think and explore the demons alive and well in our own dimension, in your own life, The Marbury Lens is for you. I'm not saying it's life changing, but it's a start.

The Marbury Lens is out November 9th from Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan. Visit Andrew Smith's blog at


  1. Well I'm convinced - to buy it and read it in January. You came up with a terrific definition (and justification) for on-the-edge YA fiction too: "(A) story (that) is dark and brings you to places you probably don't want to go inside your own mind and heart, but ignoring those places and pretending the world is a safe and happy place isn't good for you either." But then, you knew that.