‘City of Light’ by Steve Griffin

This is a fantastic tale, “interwoven with the fabric of our mundane reality.”

There was a great deal about this book that I liked very much. The descriptions of Kashi were detailed and convincing, clearly at one time having been part of the fabric of the author’s mundane reality: he had been there, and in this tale he takes his readers with him. I loved the olive billboard, “filled mostly with Hindi script but ending in a picture of a packet of crisps and an English caption: “Bitos – Full of snack and cracky Fun!” There were many well-paced passages of richly descriptive writing. “As the boy glanced at her over his shoulder, she noticed again how deep and dark his eyes were, like rich, polished wood. ‘Because they took my brother.’ At that moment Ramses drew to a halt. They had reached the gates of the palace.” Or how about this: “Her skin was unblemished and radiant, the colour of coffee in sunlight.”

There were incidental details about different characters that conveyed a great deal: “… her mum Rachel, who smoked too much.” “smiling as she imagined an energetic Victorian spinster in cotton gloves with a passion for peonies.” “Paunchy, that’s the word her dad would have used for him. He looked like he’d do a good Elvis impersonation.”

Its protagonist is a thirteen-year-old girl, and I am sure bright, thirteen-year-old girls would have less trouble suspending their disbelief than I did at times, following the story down passageways, across squares and in and out of alleys where characters appeared out of nowhere, said and did what they said and did and then disappeared again. Early teen readers would also have not read as many books in the genre, so would have been more surprised and thrilled by the denouement.

I deducted a star from my rating for personal reasons that might not apply to many readers. I have some pet aversions, like the use of ‘due to’ to mean ‘because of’: “There was a fountain in the middle of the square, but it was hard to see much else due to all the people.” There were some occasions when I stumbled over the use of a particular word: “she hugged them each” instead of ‘both’ or “My advice is to stick clear of them” instead of ‘steer’. There were occasional sentences that seemed to me to be cluttered: “Finally she met one of the village’s eldest residents, Mr Barrow, who wore a brown suit and tie and knew Evelyn Hartley, her great uncle’s aunt, who was buried in the Rowan Cottage garden.” “’Pandu – is it true what they said about you? That you saw a sadhu murdered in the Kali temple?’ asked little Saleem Mustapha in his oddly-pitched, soon-to-be-truly-broken voice, as Pandu tried to tiptoe past his bed.”

All that said, it is an exciting story that moves along at a clip with lots of things happening, and I am sure many children will love it, unhampered by the literary critical baggage I have picked up along my way through seven decades!