Reading this novel is like experiencing a long and vivid nightmare that is nice to wake up from but uneasily impossible to forget afterwards. It starts with its 17-year-old hero Seth apparently drowning only to come alive again in a devastated future world. He is joined by two other survivors who initially save him from the evil attentions of the Driver, a mysterious black figure intent on their destruction. But how come Seth and the other two are still alive? And why are there all these coffins housed in an old prison? Could all this be a haunted dream, or does that apply to Seth’s previous life all along?
These are weighty questions, and Ness keeps them going in tandem with flash-back scenes from Seth’s previous life where he has an intense love affair with another teenage boy which ends traumatically. These sections are well written and convincing. But back in the future world where he now finds himself, Seth keeps asking too many questions that take ages to resolve. There are also repetitive moments when the Driver makes yet another abortive murderous attempt on the brave trio. There is no doubting the power of the author’s imagination and his skill in keeping suspense going even in the most unlikely of circumstances. Yet while this is impressive writing, there is too much weeping and general gloom as the three teenagers try to make their way in the claustrophobic, labyrinthine setting in which they now find themselves. There is a resolution, with positive feelings finally coming into play. But it arrives very late, and may still not be enough for some.