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The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner

November 24, 2011

Arnold Ruben has created a memory machine, a utopia housed in a picture palace, where the happiest memories replay forever, a haven in which he and his precious daughter can shelter from the war-clouds gathering over 1937 Britain. But on the day of her seventeenth birthday Amaryllis leaves Warlock Hall and the world she has known and wakes to find herself in a desolate and disturbing place. Something has gone terribly wrong with her father’s plan.


I’ve never read anything by Sally Gardner before much to my dismay. Her previous novels I, Coriander, and The Red Necklace both caught my eye when they first came out, but for some reason I never quite got around to reading them. So, when I was offered the chance to take part in Sally’s Double Shadow blog tour, I couldn’t say no! If you haven’t had a chance to read Sally’s guest post on Book Monkey then please click here.

I didn’t quite know what to expect from The Double Shadow, but now it hardly seems to matter as I’m almost certain that any expectations I had from this novel would have been wrong. I’ll start off by saying that as I am new to Sally Gardner’s novels, I was absolutely blown away by the sheer quality of her writing. I’d probably go so far as to say it’s the best writing I’ve seen in a young adult book yet. Her language is wonderfully imaginative and nothing short of captivating. As I was reading it, it felt very reminiscent of a childrens classic, something written perhaps fifty years ago. There was something very comforting about this, though for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Even after the very last page I felt as though this could easily become an instant classic, the sort of book older teens would perhaps read in schools. It’s certainly a novel that could stand the test of time.

I can’t fault Sally for her writing in any way, it’s flawless. Where the imperfections lie in The Double Shadow are with the plot and the memory machine itself. From the first few pages, you will know that this is not a novel to be taken lightly. You will realise very quickly that you will never fully grasp entirely what is going on, or what will happen. It is the kind of book you have to work at, and for some this may actually put you off from finishing it, though I sincerely hope it doesn’t. The plot is extremely disjointed and fragmented. I quite often found scenes that made little sense to the story as a whole, and which made no connection to previous scenes. Amaryllis herself is a very strange character that often feels like two entirely different people. At the beginning of the novel she is extremely unlikable and her difficult behaviour sees her expelled from school and living at home with a father she has no memory of that leads to a very strained relationship. You see, Amaryllis has trouble remembering things from her childhood because her father has invented a memory machine, which he had intended to use as a tool to wipe away Amaryllis’s bad memories. However, they soon discovered that it had in fact wiped away her memory entirely. I couldn’t really get a sense for Amaryllis’s father as a character until the very end of the novel. It’s only then that his full intentions the memories of their past are finally revealed, and in this revelation all the loose threads of the story begin to come together.

The hardest thing of all in this novel for me, was the memory machine itself. I could never quite get a feel for what it was supposed to look and feel like or what it was really supposed to do. Sally has done well in creating a rather haunting story surrounding this memory machine, but it was at times perhaps a little too haunting, and I couldn’t quite see through it enough to fully understand it. The idea of having a machine that could take away bad memories, but also place you in a bubble that replays your very best memories over and over again, is definitely an intriguing and original thought, and for this alone you have to commend Sally for her efforts. I also love the fact that this technologically-advanced machine exists in a time of the past for us, a time of war to be precise. The two contrasting themes work extremely well together to create something utterly unique and compelling.

There are many themes and ideas jam-packed into this novel; memories, the war, the love between Amaryllis and Ezra, the son of an employee of her father, friendship, death and murder. One could argue that Sally has tried to include too much into one novel, but you can’t argue that it makes for one very exciting novel. I’m not going to delve into the plot any more because I think the magical thing about The Double Shadow is the fact that you will never be able to guess what will happen next, or where it will all end. If I could say one thing, it would be that this is a novel that you may have to persevere with at times, but just trust me when I say that it will pay off. It’s beautifully written, and at times it’s Sally’s writing alone that has carried me through the difficult points, and made me want to read on. It does come together at the end, and everything will become clear, just keep going and enjoy the weird and wonderful ride that takes you there.

I should also say, as a word of warning, that this novel is intended for a young adult audience. There are some very mature themes explored such as sex, rape and murder, so please do be aware of this before reading it!

The Double Shadow is out now, published by Indigo, the young adult imprint of Orion. A big thank you goes to Indigo for providing me with a copy for review, and also to Sally for posting a guest post on Book Monkey for the Double Shadow blog tour!



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