Originally published on Nerdclave.com
The Buried Life
Author: Carrie Patel
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Pro: Jane and Sundar are delightful characters. Jane, especially, felt warm blooded with an enviable soul.
Con: The plot felt a bit predictable at times, and I would have liked to see more everyday effects stemming from the story’s unique underground society–geeky world building stuff sure to be included in future installments.
The Buried Life by Carrie Patel, a breezy read with a steady plot and memorable characters, is a promising debut novel.
Serving as backdrop and the novel’s major speculative element, the city of Ricoletta is built underground. A “Catastrophe” inspired this subterranean culture. Call it steampunk, though I believe certain spoiler-possible distinctions within would disqualify it, but the social society is very much Victorian. There’s a chasm between classes, and the rich are untouchable.
A rare murder among the “whitenails” shakes up the world, and Municipal Police Inspector Liesl Malone catches the “contract” (case) along with rookie partner, plucky actor-turned-cop Rafe Sundar. When a second victim is found among the ruling class–the same powers-that-be who have started blocking their investigation–the two inspectors start wondering just how deep the mystery goes.
The Buried Life’s strength is its characters, particularly Sundar and the laundress Jane, who I consider the novel’s second main character.
Patel has a real ear for characters with buoyancy of spirit. There’s an element of banter with all the dialogue in The Buried Life, but these two characters stand apart. They’re fun, they’re kind of screw-ups, and I want them to succeed while I’m also constantly afraid that they’ll fail. When they do, it really does strike a chord.
However, I felt that characters like Malone, who is quite the no nonsense asskicker, relied on archetypal expectations. When Malone needs to make a witty remark, she does. When she needs to figure out an extensive network of tunnels in ninety minutes, she does. It’s not that I would like for her to have a crippling drug addiction or anything. I just wanted something more to latch onto than short platinum hair..
Its interesting how Malone’s sections are terse and less descriptive, befitting her character, but it lacks the charm of Jane’s chapters. Although I appreciated Malone’s badassness, I just didn’t feel invested in her as a character. I didn’t feel like I knew her inner life like I knew Jane’s.
The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Ricoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.
When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…
From a plot standpoint, though related to characterization, the inspectors make a tad too many leaps of logic, especially in the early stages of the investigation pertaining to the murderer’s motive. I would have preferred clues that lingered so I could piece them together. Instead, they work through a lot of it mentally in a way that didn’t seem earned.
But that’s the downside to The Buried Life. It’s very ambitious, and perhaps there are too many elements to include. As a result, a lot of awesome stuff doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
The subterranean world is not given its due. When it is described, it felt perfunctory or all at once, in a block. There’s not much natural action stemming from it, except in the novel’s final quarter and then only artificially. The influence on everyday life, in a way that makes The Buried Life‘s world vastly unlike our own, is not always apparent. Overall, the underground culture does little besides emphasize the class divide, and any number of settings could have been swapped out for it.
Overall, The Buried Life was enjoyable because I enjoyed the characters. Hardcore steampunk or hard science fiction fans might want to pass, but for those looking for a quick paced story with some speculative elements, it’s recommended.