“There was Music” is a literary fiction fantasy that follows Prisoner 43-1-12 along the path of her many names and the different lives she lives all in one lifetime. Her life is far from easy, when raiders destroy her family’s horse ranch, it sets off a series of events that destroy the world 43-1-12 knew and plunges her into extreme survival mode for years without a break. This story is dark, full of heavy and traumatic themes from torture, sexual assault and rape, as well as suicidal ideations, but the story, at its core, is about healing, so it’s not all doom and gloom, I promise. That being said, I loved the tension of the first half of the book so much, and was sad to see that end.
There are fantasy elements in this book, mainly in the different groups of people that occupy this world, some being closer to human presenting while others are more like elves or even trees. But the fantasy is more of a pleasant backdrop to this war-torn landscape, and the development of our main character. The first half of the book is told in a dual-timeline from our MC’s point of view, changing from 1st to 3rd person when she is recounting the past versus what’s happening to her in the present. We know from the very start of the book that the main character is in prison but not why, or if she is even guilty. Moments from her prison life herald back to something that happened in her childhood which tease out what happened to her land, and what landed her in prison. These chapters were my favorites as I felt the author did an excellent job using the timeline jumps to maintain tension and interest in the story and world building early on. Eventually, that changes and we no longer get glimpses into the MC’s past, and everything remains in the present, where she is trying to time her escape. These parts were absolutely fine, don’t get me wrong, but they lacked that tension I had come to love so much in the earlier portions of the book. But that may just be a personal preference of mine.
Reading “There was Music” in today’s reproductive rights climate in the USA was… interesting to say the least. It was hard not to make parallels to what prisoner 43-1-12 faces as a woman, and the rhetoric of what’s currently happening around reproductive rights. It made the story even more unsettling in my opinion, but not in a bad way. I think the author did a great job of handling those delicate topics and showing how easy it is to use fanaticism as a way to justify absolutely horrible behavior and treatment of women. However, if you are hoping to find a resolution to the issues in our MC’s world in the wake of this bloody war, you won’t find it in this story. This book is laser focused on the main character’s journey of survival and not much else.
The last quarter of the book is where the fantasy of this novel, as well as the themes of the healing influence of hope and the power of music is most prevalent. This is also where I felt the story became much more of a literary fiction, as the main character’s journey becomes much more introspective and returns to a type of world building that wasn’t present earlier. It came off as a bit disconnected from the rest of the book, as it didn’t seem to have much bearing toward the overall plot and lead to a bit of an anti-climatic ending in my opinion. The prose and writing in this section is just as lovely as in the previous so it was still pleasant to read, but it did leave me feeling a bit confused and a tad let down at the stories conclusion, which is why I’m giving it 4 stars. However, the themes this book follows and the complexity of the main character are all important and unique, which made this, overall, a highly enjoyable read. If you are a fan of dark themed literary fiction with touches of fantasy, give this story a try! And thank you to the author for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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