The Buried Life Review by Lauren Redmond
Title- The Buried Life
Author- Carrie Patel
Publisher- Angry Robot
Date of this Publication- 2015
Genre- Murder Mystery, Steampunk, YA
My Rating- 3/5 stars
The story is set in a Victorian Steampunk underground city named Recoletta. This underground labyrinth is ran by an upper elite known as the ‘Whitenails’- I presume because they don’t have to do any manual labour, or indeed don’t have to get their nails dirty, and something is murdering the Whitenails.
The story is told from the point of view of two female protagonists- both are equally strong and central to the plot line and both have a more emotional, more adventurous and less rational male sidekick and both are embroiled in the mystery of solving the murders of Recoletta’s elite. Inspector Liesl Malone is the tough as nails, hard jawed detective who’s sarcastic and sometimes snarky one liners emanate 30-40s gangster noir. Her partner is the younger, less experiences and more emotional counterpart Raef Sundar, venturing through the upper class worlds of quasi Victorian Whitenails they try to solve one murder while desperately preventing another from happening.
Jane Lin is a laundress for the upper elite and together with her journalist friend Freddie, they also become entangled with the murders of Recoletta’s Councillors, particularly Jane Lin as she happens to catch the eye of villain/love interest Roman Arnault- a spoilt playboy with disputed motives and many rumours surrounding him.
The plot moves rather quickly, leaping from murdered historian to murdered councillor, Jane Lin uncovering secret from her mysterious love interest and Malone suddenly being pressurised to solve the murders of Recolettas council elite. The reason for the murders taking place in the first place seem to centre around a discovery of the past relating to the hundred year old tragedy that destroyed all of Recoletta’s literature and records. All through the book Recoletta’s society seems to be constantly threat from something unseen. There seems to be a none-too –obvious threat constantly there in the background and Patel does a good job at this by hinting it through characters reflection of past events and the perceived ideas that the same could happen again.
There were plenty of bugbears in this one for me though; the first one is even on the cover, or at least the back of it. This book is marked as ‘society in ruins’. This for me is not society in ruins- what has risen from the ashes is a society of a highly ordered class system where protection and security are two things Recoletta values most. The second bugbear for me is the catastrophe that happened over 100 years ago. This is left mysteriously blank and seems to only skirt around the vague notion that all literature and records have been restricted and destroyed. On top of this are the silly names of the characters which makes it seem all the more unbelievable. This and their 30s 40s gangster-esque speech- the kind one would imagine in a Frank Miller story. I also found the book to be a tad on the predictable side, after 250 pages in I already knew who the villain was, who will die and who the readers will be duped into thinking who the villain is. The book also suffers from weak plot elements such as a weak background history into Recoletta’s past and weaker character backgrounds, namely that of Roman Arnault and Liesl Malone. It also has weak characters- Jane Lin being my favourite but the character of Liesl Malone seems undeveloped, flat on paper and a carbon copy of other detectives except with her gender having been changed.
What I did like in the book were the other characters aside from Liesl Malone and Roman Arnault- Jane Lin, Freddie and Raef Sundar were the strongest part of the novel for me, each of them I felt were stronger better developed characters that could have carried the novel all by themselves even perhaps if they were the main characters. Everything else I found- plot, setting and background is sadly lacking.
This isn’t a strong YA novel and not a particularly unique either. Better YA, Steampunk and murder mystery novels have been written before this. I found it ok for a light read but not as an introduction to the genre of Steampunk.