Blade book 1: Playing Dead

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Author: Tim Bowler

Publication: 2008, Philomel Books

Pages: 231

Overall Rating:

Rating for Action:

Quantity of Action:

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Blade knows every inch of the City.  He knows its secrets and its hiding places, knows when he’s being watched and where he can go to ground when he needs to rest.  That knowledge is what’s kept him safe, until the day a chance encounter with an old woman sends his world crashing down him, forcing him run from a past he thought he’d finally escaped.  Only this time he’s no longer alone.  He’s got Becky and her daughter, Jaz, to care for too.  But the more he runs, the more uncertain he is whose past they’re really running from – Becky’s or his own.  Either way, everyone in the city seems to want them dead. And it will take all of Blade’s street smarts, and the skills that lent him his name, to survive.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: Bowler plays a neat literary trick here by having Blade speak directly to the reader.  He casts you as a character named Bigeyes, a constant observer of Blade’s world, and Blade often speaks to Bigeyes through his internal dialogue.

For example:  Don’t just stare at me, Bigeyes.  See if you can rescue some of my clothes.  No, forget that.  They’re ruined.  Do something else.  I don’t know.  See if you can find something I can wrap around me.  A blanket or an old newspaper, whatever.

It might be a trick, but it really drew me in, helped me burrow deep inside Blade’s head and really care about him.  And that’s important, because well there is some action here – and plenty of great tension – the book is really all about Blade – who he is, how he thinks, how he survives as a 14 year old kid living on his own.

What I Liked the Least: Blade got his name for a reason.  Bowler tells us that a lot.  He knows how to handle a knife and he’s got loads of experience.  It’s just not recent experience – in the last few years Blade has given up his knife work and survived by staying invisible.  Fair enough.  Problem is, even though Bowler kept telling us how good Blade was with a knife, we almost never see him use one.

A knife’s tough from that perspective.  Unlike fists, in order to prove his skills Blade has to draw blood and do real damage, and that’s hard to accomplish without challenging the reader’s sense of sympathy for him.  So the end result is that we hear a lot about how good Blade is with a knife, without ever seeing any real evidence.  And that made it hard to believe.   

My only other issue with the book was that Bowler keeps dropping hints about Blades past and the things he’s done that now have him on the run.  But the hints are maddeningly obscure, and by the end of the book we still know very little about what happened.  I love a good mystery as much as the next person, but it felt like Bowler carried it a bit too far in this case.

How Good was the Action?  While the tension literally oozes off the page as Blade alternately hides from his pursuers and hunts them, there’s not a lot in the way of outright action.  But there quite a few times when Blade and Becky have to hide from people who are close on their tail, or when Blade has to sneak up on a pursuer and observe them without being seen.  While these scenes aren’t necessarily high on the action quotient, they’re extremely taut, well written, and impossible to put down.

How Engaging was the Story? As I said, Bowler does a fantastic job of getting us inside Blade’s head and seeing the world through his eyes.  And Blade’s world is a scary, fascinating place.  I loved watching him navigate the city and going along for the ride as he finds his way into his various hidey holes, or snugs as he calls them.

Bowler also pulls you in through his short, clipped sentences and the use of creative and possibly unique slang – all of which makes total sense in context.  It was a lot of fun listening to Blade’s voice inside my head as I read.

For example:  One dimpy slug.  About twenty, face like a thud.  Heavy build but clumsy, lazy.  You can see it all over him.  He’s no trouble.  A total muffin.

Overall Assessment: A tense thriller.  Bowler shoves you deep into the mind of a street-wise orphan, using short, clipped sentences and healthy dose of creative slang to create an unforgettable voice. Once you’ve delved into Blades mind, you won’t soon forget the experience. 

Profanity: Some.

Sex: None.

Violence: Yes.  Blade lives on the streets.  His world is a tough, scary place and Bowler doesn’t try to hide that.  There is violence.  There is blood.  But it’s not especially graphic and much of it is referred to somewhat obliquely.

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