by Peggy Riley
I’ve had a week or so to collect my thoughts on this one. I needed it, to be honest!
From the cover alone, (I know, don’t judge.., etc., but I do!) I think I knew I would like Amity and Sorrow. But I knew nothing else about the plot. Luckily, it’s more than a pretty face.
It’s gripping from the opening pages: a woman named Amaranth is driving her two daughters, the title characters, through an unspecified desert; from where and to where we have no idea. They drive for days on end, crash their car and come into contact with the ‘real world’. Gradually we come to realise that they have been exiled from a very strange community indeed.
Amity and Sorrow themselves are intriguing sisters; like two sides of the same bizarre coin, fighting as much against each other as against everyone else. They’re bound by a wrist strap because ‘Sorrow runs.’ Amity has the unenviable task of keeping her sister in check. Sorrow is in a way the ‘chosen one’ of the two – everything happens to her. Their fraught relationship alone is enough to sustain the reader’s interest.
However, their mother is really the crucial character. We are treated to flashbacks to Amaranth’s past, before she became ‘first wife’ and renounced any other identity she had. These juxtapositions are jarring, and I sensed definite echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale, in the way that women are nameless and described so callously; how they seem to be used and valued solely for their fertility. Amaranth constantly reflects on how her daughters are growing up, and the notion of whether she has raised them wrong. Importantly – is it too late for them to change their world view at twelve years old?
It’s full of inspired ideas and images. Riley has created a completely involving dystopia for her characters to exist in. Placing them alongside ‘normal’ people, the farmers, gradually exposes them, and us, to the strangeness of their lives, and reveals a new modern world which they have no choice but to adjust to. The reader’s revulsion for the mysterious father/husband who has been left behind intensifies throughout the novel, to the extent that the denouement has the possibility to disappoint. Luckily, it’s as revolting and wonderful as we would hope.
On the strength of this novel, I’m so excited to read more from Peggy Riley, and indeed from Tinder Press. Both the scenario and the characters are inspired creations, and I really became so invested in their story, in their interactions and gradual shift towards a more normal way of life. The words too are exquisitely crafted and feel so fresh and sparky. I already had a few people interested in reading this from my description, so looking forward to its general release so I can see what everyone else thinks!