see nerd blog — inceptio

Alison Morton’s Inceptio is a coming of age wish fulfillment novel, but don’t hold that against it. There’s a long literary tradition of people waking up to discover they’re now a princess. Of course, this is slightly unlikely to happen to anyone, especially someone like me: I prefer my fantasies to be a little more realistic (ho ho). But it’s the basis of the novel, so I’ll let it ride.

The novel’s set in an alternative reality, which does rather appeal to me. It’s written in well: the history never imposes itself, details are mentioned only when they’re relevant to the story. The history feels carefully constructed, rather than a mish–mash of randomness thrown together to aid the plot. Whether that’s correct, I don’t know, but it’s those lights behind the curtain that make me want to read more.

Unsurprisingly, as a coming of age wish fulfillment novel, the lead character comes of age—except it’s more coming of age ten years after she’s come of age. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not the coming of middle age. The heroine changes and grows throughout the novel. She has to work for her progress, and does so, as she develops from victim to oppressor. Having said that, too many things fall into her lap too easily. Perhaps that’s fair enough; this is, after all, a wish–fulfillment novel: for wishes to be fulfilled, perhaps laps that lie under luck are necessary.

The depth of the characters are not forced on the reader. That’s partially because there isn’t a great depth, but there’s enough to make them believable. You can read the novel on the surface, and as such it’s a fun romp. Like the alternative history, there is some extra weight to the heroine’s characterisation to give something to chew on if that’s what you want to do.

There are some subtle touches that I appreciated, such as her heroineness realising that such–and–such aren’t being élitist, they’ve simply done the work and are now good at it. In other words, the characterisation works, so that I’m willing to keep exploring the author’s alternative reality in the company of this silver–spooned overachiever, even though she’d be a very irritating dinner guest.

The weakness is in the colour of the plot. It’s all there, and I saw no inconsistencies, but too much plot followed familiar tropes. I fear the author learnt the behaviour of certain iconic professions from bad television. The plot isn’t in Murder She Rote territory, but I do wonder if the novelist peeped from behind the settee a little too often when that braindeadifier was transmitted.

There are a couple of places where the author gets things plain wrong. In one case, she has the heroine casually do some computer security stuff on the spot that, at the scale concerned, would take a lot of work and planning to get correct. I suspect the author didn’t check the subject out, but felt something should be said, so said something. She should have either done the research or let the matter lie. Still, this isn’t an uncommon error amongst new novelists, and it does no more than make me raise my eyebrows while still following the story.

Inceptio is actually rather impressive for a first novel: the various mistakes and rough edges can be forgiven as the author develops her skills.

I listened to the novel as an audiobook. It was narrated by Caitlin Thorburn, who was fine. She took me on the adventure: I followed the story and characters without problem.

I like this novel, despite have no chance of ever being a princess. I’ll grab the next. It’s that underplayed but delicious alternative history that gets me.

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