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Wicked or What?
Sean Wright
Crowswing Books, 192 pages

Wicked or What?
Sean Wright
In October 2005, Sean Wright's critically acclaimed debut SFF work The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor was a short-listed finalist for a British Fantasy Award for Best Novella. In 2005, he was named as one of Hatchard's Authors of the Year, along with Susanna Clarke, V.S. Naipaul, and other bestselling authors of the official Royal bookshop, Piccadilly, London. His books have featured prominently at the world's largest independent bookstore, Foyle's, London, too, as a continuing favourite bestseller. His second sci-fi/fantasy title -- Dark Tales of Time and Space was nominated for the 2006 Lancashire Children's Book of the Year Award in the UK.

Sean Wright Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: New Wave of Speculative Fiction: The What If Factor

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Hebblethwaite

It's interesting how a book's introduction can influence our reading of the text. Take this comment from Sean Wright's introduction to Wicked or What?:

I have tried my hardest to make Wicked or What? an uncomfortable read where the main character easily forgets not only who he is, but doesn't know what reality is anymore... The fragmentation is a device I've used on purpose. I wanted uncertainty in every chapter. To experience Jamey's incoherent episodes is much better than have me -- the writer -- tell you about them. Writers must show, not tell.
Well, yes, they should... but you've just told me what to watch out for. Niggles aside, though, I do like tales where reality becomes slippery, so my hopes were high as I embarked on the book. But before I get into how far those hopes were realized, I should introduce the players...

Our protagonist is Jamey O'Rooke, the fat kid at school, who was forever being bullied until a couple of strangers mistakenly handed him a mysterious object (whose nature is never revealed) that was intended for one of his tormentors. Jamey's best friend is Layla, who seems to be on his side but may have her own agenda. And, somewhere else entirely, an individual known as the Third travels across a strange landscape to join them, before it's too late...

There is plenty that's intriguing about Wicked or What? The setting, Jaarfindor, appears to be a nexus of different realities: Jamey's and Layla's school is a futuristic space venue intertwined with elements of present-day Earth; and the fantasy world which the Third stumbles through is yet another region of Jaarfindor. This structure is not explored as much as it could (or perhaps should) be, but it's an interesting set-up. There are also twists and turns in the plot... yet the tale never truly catches fire. Perhaps it's the location: the school may be in an exotic place, but in many respects, it's an ordinary school. Perhaps it's because, despite Wright's efforts, there isn't really "uncertainty in every chapter": the whys, hows and whats of the tale aren't always clear, but one doesn't experience the disorientation that the best fantasy produces.

Perhaps it all needs fleshing out more. Wright says in his afterword, "I know there are many loose ends in the story... To me, my story is complete in its incompleteness." Well, there's certainly nothing wrong with making the reader do some of the work, but... but there's a feeling that Wicked or What? comprises the bare bones of a story, a story that needs more exploration for it to stand on its own.

Then there's the style. To quote again from the author's afterword: "I delight at an original metaphor (but they don't come that often for me)." Whilst it would be nice to prove him wrong, all too often, Wright tries for startling imagery that just ends up seeming awkward; for instance: "Chill wind blew Jamey's floppy fringe back and forth across his pallid forehead like a shredded windscreen wiper..." To be fair, this is one of the more extreme examples, but Wright does get by more on enthusiasm than technical skill.

Yet that enthusiasm should not be underestimated. Even though he does not achieve as much in Wicked or What? as he sets out to, Sean Wright is clearly keen to map his own way through the genre (if only more writers would!). If his skill as a writer develops enough to match his ambition, the results will be essential reading.

Copyright © 2006 David Hebblethwaite

David lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.

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