The Quarantined City is the debut novel from James Everington and is published by Infinity Plus. With a novelette (Trying To Be So Quiet) already published and a novella – Paupers' Graves – lined up for September, this is a productive year for James, which is excellent news for anyone who enjoys well-crafted, intelligent dark fiction.
It’s great to see the book finally out there in its complete form given the turbulent the turbulent history it’s so far endured. Its original incarnation was as a serialised novel published by Spectral Press, the release of its monthly episodes unfortunately coinciding with the unseemly demise of said publisher. Given that one of the many threads running through the book is the power of words to change things, there’s a certain irony about the whole situation. Last I checked, Infinity Plus were still there but, you know, still early days…
The structure of the book lends itself to serialisation, being split into six parts but, having re-read the parts which were published, along with the concluding parts which weren’t I can say that reading the novel all at one go is absolutely the best way to appreciate it. It’s a complex work, with a lot of balls in the air at one time and makes demands of the reader simply to keep up with it and I have to say being able to read it all at one go made that process so much easier.
Which all sounds like a criticism. Which it surely isn’t. Yes, reading The Quarantined City requires some effort from the reader – but good writing should. The narrative is deliberately confusing and ambiguous but the author does this so skilfully that you’re never completely lost as to what’s happening. The questions you’re asking yourself are the ones James wants you to be asking.
The plot revolves around Fellows, an inhabitant of the titular city, on a quest to uncover the stories written by reclusive author Boursier. Discover the stories he does, and the novel is structured in such a way that each of the six parts contains a story within a story as Fellows reads the individual works of Boursier.
In so doing, changes apparently occur within the city itself, Fellows’ grasp of reality subtly altering. Reality, of course, is a relative term – no more so than in the Quarantined City. The book can be seen as Fellows’ quest to uncover the secrets of the city – not least among them why the quarantine was enforced in the first place.
I’d love to say more about the narrative but fear that to do so runs the risk of straying into spoiler territory. I must say though that this is one of the most cleverly constructed novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The reader can’t help but be drawn into Fellows’ quest – the clues and riddles presented along the way heightening anticipation of the final reveal.
And wow, what a reveal! Perfect. All that has gone before is masterfully tied up in a brilliantly constructed conclusion. There is great joy to be had as each revelation is made; as each of the perplexing riddles seeded throughout the narrative are answered; as sense is finally made of the skillfully created confusion.
Honestly, make time to read the final part of the book – The Quarantine – in one sitting. It’s a masterclass in technique. The story within a story device is no better employed than here, the frequency of the interludes increasing to mirror the headlong dash towards resolution, the lines between who is writing and who is being written about blurring until…
I was blown away by The Quarantined City, loved its structure and its intelligence. The ability to produce such a mature and complex piece of work so (relatively) early in his career suggests great things lie ahead for James. I sincerely hope they do.