In Gavin Chait’s debut novel, an isolated West African community is changed forever when a man falls from the stars, a man more than human. As well as attracting the unwanted attention of local warlords, the silver-skinned Samara must escape the darkness waiting above – the hell in the skies that is the space prison Tartarus…
First of all, Lament for the Fallen is a highly readable novel, and Chait should be applauded for managing that all important trick of getting you to keep turning that page until there aren’t any left. With its use of present tense throughout, the narrative has a real immediacy that makes for snappy, fast-paced prose. Chait is also clearly familiar with the setting and/or has done his research, as the Nigerian landscape and its culture is intricately detailed to the point of being very immersive.
Most importantly, the simple The Man Who Fell to Earth-esque premise also builds nicely as the book goes along, growing into a much more overtly science fiction tale than you might initially expect. It’s also thematically strong, being ladled with commentary on contemporary affairs (as is much of the best sci-fi) and the importance of storytelling.
On the other hand, however, there are some sizeable flaws with the novel. The author can be quite on the nose with his writing and messages, which lends the book a rather po-faced tone that does mar your enjoyment of the story somewhat. Likewise, despite the plus points of the prose and plot, there isn’t much of a forward momentum to the actual story, as the tone is more contemplative than highly driven (for instance, the frequent interludes detailing a folk tale or fable told by the characters).
Another big issue is that the characters are not explored deep enough. Events occur that should really tug at the heartstrings but it doesn’t feel like we know these people well enough for them to really hit home. Most of the villagers speak in platitudes and are not given much to differentiate them. Samara, on the other hand, is a fascinating character - with his consciousness shared by a symbiotic A.I (like Siri in your head), he can be two completely different personalities.
On the whole, there is much to recommend giving Chait’s novel a read (he has been honing the idea of it since he was twelve years old, apparently), as it is smart, ideas-led science fiction with a literary fiction bent. Unfortunately, however, some annoying problems prevent it from really shooting into the stratosphere.
LAMENT FOR THE FALLEN / AUTHOR: GAVIN CHAIT / PUBLISHER: DOUBLEDAY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW