Booking in to a large but silent property for what is advertised as the ultimate in an Escape Room experience, teenagers Ami and four others soon find themselves in real and present danger. Moving from space to space, trying to work out cryptic clues against a background of ever-increasing peril, their journey reads like a fictional version of a particularly menacing video game. Things are not helped by one of the group behaving badly with monotonous regularity. Eventually Ami is left on her own with still more surprises to come.
This is a rich stew of a story, gripping enough at first but ultimately with too much going on too quickly. Characters are sketchy, with Ami’s father’s late appearance insufficiently integrated with all that had gone on before. Repeated references to practices in Ancient Mayan civilisations help Ami find her way from one enclosure to another. But they also constitute one more puzzling out of time excursion on a journey already packed with other throw-backs from the past, including encounters with sabre-tooth tigers and a puzzled Neanderthal man. The final pages touch on no less than the world’s survival. Yet by this time even this otherwise gifted author’s prose is beginning to buckle under the weight of so much happening, with those tired old couplings, ‘unquenchable optimism’ and ‘boundless energy’ making an unwelcome appearance on the final page.
Christopher Edge has done fine work in the past, and his ambition in this latest novel is admirable. But this time he seems to have forgotten that less is so often more when it comes to maintaining a sustainable pitch of literary excitement and engagement. There is still much in this story to live on in the imagination. If ultimately it doesn’t quite come off, its scope and energy remain impressive.