The Amber Fury is one of those books that crops up occasionally that I find tricky to review. Nominally a crime novel (there is a central mystery and a couple of murders) but with no twists or startling revelations, it still manages to rise to something greater than your average whodunit. Instead of simple sensation, Haynes invokes deeper emotion as she meticulously analyses what it to be a teenager and misunderstood (if that’s not a tautology). The reason I find it difficult to summarise is that in many ways it is unremarkable book, yet it had me gripped from first to last.
The book borrows heavily from Greek tragedy, a sentence that until a few years ago would have struck fear into my heart. Until I worked in Waterstones I had no idea people still read it. Even then, the only people who asked for them in the shop only appeared to be reading them because they were made to. It never occurred to me people actually did it for fun.
Then I read the exemplary graphic novel Logicomix, which contains a story deeply rooted in Greek tragedy. The Amber Fury continues this awakening and bringing with it the realisation that nearly half the books I’ve ever read are deeply routed in Greek tragedy, only less overtly. Alongside her story Haynes delivers an excellent, informative and invigorating primer into the Greek playwrights. If nothing else this book has awakened a desire to discover more.
But there’s a lot more than Grecian woe here. Characterisation is strong. Not that I know very many, but the children in the story felt like real-life actual teenagers, which considering the complexity of the emotions they are going through is no mean feat.
There is much in the book about punishment. Whether it be the potential leniency (or otherwise) in the British justice system, or the way misbehaving children are treated as damaged goods, Haynes lays bare disparities and misconceptions about punishments fitting the crime. When these are set against the brutal retributions dealt out in the plays the children are working with, the idea of what makes a just punishment comes under great scrutiny. It’s refreshing, most crime novels deal with the crime, and catching who did it. This book is much more about the aftermath. The consequences, big and small.
The structure of the novel is a little higgledy-piggledy, it jumps from first person account to a diary written by one of the children with little or no reason other than to maintain suspense. I’m tempted to suggest it reads like a début novel, but as I have no idea whether I would have thought this if I hadn’t known it was a first novel, I’ll merely say that Haynes is a talented writer whose skills will only become sharper with each future novel.
The Amber Fury is an understated read, and its lack of sensation may deter some readers. This is not so much a crime novel, it’s more an analysis on the effects of crime on its victims and perpetrators. It is also a great introduction to some of the bloodiest stories ever told. There is no great mystery to be solved here, yet I tore through the final chapters, keen to see how everything would fall out. This is a quality novel and I look forward to seeing where Natalie Haynes next outing takes us.
Many thanks to Alison and the team at Corvus for sending me a copy of this book.