Graham’s Charlotte

Graham's Charlotte

This review is going to be a little different from the previous ones that I have posted on this site.  Graham’s Charlotte is the first solo novel by Drew Farnsworth and is due for release on 17 April 2014. As it is not yet available for purchase, I am writing this entry based on an advanced reader copy and, because of this, I am aware that what I have read may not be indicative of the quality of the final product. Please bear that in mind as you continue with this review.

While on a trip to Costa Rica, Madison Riley is suddenly approached by a stranger who seems to know a worrying amount about her life. He claims that in two weeks’ time she will break into the headquarters of National Security Agency in order to delete a file. The stranger, calling himself Graham, claims that if she does not she will be putting her mother’s life in danger.

Madison is not inclined to believe him, but he gives her a mobile phone which he claims has the ability to predict future events. This proves to be true moments later when an earthquake rocks the airport and the phone helps Madison to escape death and rescue her trapped friends. Graham leaves her, warning her to never show the phone to anyone. There are dangerous people who would kill her in order to possess such advanced technology.

Now more inclined to trust Graham, Madison returns home and begins to experiment with the phone. It proves to be able to do virtually anything, giving accurate answers to any question that she asks of it. However, when she questions it about how she is going to break into the NSA, all it does is provide her with a complex explanation that seems near impossible for her to achieve. Yet she knows that failure is not an option, not when her mother’s life is in danger.

I feel that it’s only fair to start with what I really liked about the book; the concept. Using the idea of of a semi-sentient mobile phone, the author can build any kind of story he wants. Within Graham’s Charlotte, Madison uses the phone to resolve a variety of different problems from saving lives to figuring out what is the best way to spend a Saturday night. Although it can be viewed as a bit of a deus ex machina, it is noted in the novel that even though the phone can accurately tell Madison how to succeed at what she asks, it does not necessarily follow that she has the necessary skills in order to be able to do what it suggests.

The idea that it is better not to know one’s future is also explored within the novel, which is always a topic that I find interesting. Although Madison can ask the mobile phone about future events, she runs the risk of discovering that terrible things will happen to her and her loved ones that she will be unable to change. Madison is torn between the temptation of knowing and the horror of what she might learn, as would any other human who had been given such Godly powers. It allows for some good character development for Madison as she must learn self-control and to accept that some fates simply cannot be altered.

Unfortunately, the novel has a lot of problems. Although there are a couple of intense action sequences (most notably the earthquake and the visit to the NSA towards the end of the novel), there is a lot of padding in between that does little to expand on the concepts. I found the opening chapter to be incredibly difficult get into because as each new character first appeared they received a lengthy paragraph describing their appearance.

Following on from this, when Madison gets back to school, the mission to infiltrate the NSA seems to be shunted in to the background to make way for long sections in which Madison gets on with her normal life. Although the mobile phone and Graham are mentioned every now and then, Madison’s mission never feels especially urgent or important during this time. She is warned that dangerous people want the technology of the phone and yet they never really surface (despite the fact that Madison is not really subtle about using it in public). It is not really until the last fifth of the story when the story really feels like it is picking up speed.

In particular, I found the subplot about StarX particularly needless. StarX is a highly addictive mobile phone game which is mentioned constantly throughout the story. With the exception of Madison, everyone in the story obsessively plays this game to the degree that they grow aggressive if anyone tries to prevent them from doing so. More page time was devoted to describing this game than was used in the primary plot and I was convinced that was because the two stories would inevitably collide but this was sadly not the case. In the end, I was left feeling that the StarX plotline was utterly pointless and could have been removed from the novel without really impacting it at all.

Although the pacing issues are severe, by far the weakest point of Graham’s Charlotte was the characters. The best of the bunch was Madison who, although she had the whiff of the Mary Sue about her, at least received character development within the story. The only real issue I had with her as a character was that she did not seem to be an especially good friend, often ignoring her best friends or showing little compassion for them (this was at its most noticeable during the race when she debated running slowly to support her weaker friend or winning and came to the decision that victory was the morally right course to take). The sub-cast were not as fortunate.

Madison seemed to largely look down on most people within her class, viewing them as vapid and shallow. Of the lot of them, Jillian felt as though she had the most scope to become interesting as there were hints to a depth in her character beyond her outward “popular girl” face, yet in the end it developed to nothing. The most frustrating of the characters by far were Madison’s two friends – Mia and Danny.

If either of these characters actually had a personality, I had trouble determining it. When Danny was introduced we were told that he was shy and polite (according to his description, he had the habit of calling everyone friend although I did not notice him actually do this at all within the novel) however right after this description he was incredibly rude to Madison’s boyfriend. I never really got the feeling that he was as meek as he was portrayed in his description, instead coming across more sullen and petulant. I could not even really understand why Madison called him her best friend, as he never seemed to particularly like her very much.

Mia was even more frustrating, flipping wildly between hyper-active (if slightly dense) super best pal and delicate flower as the scene dictated. In one scene she would show concern as to the way that Madison’s personality had changed, only for her to be over excited and clingy again the next time she appeared. It was as though there was some kind of character arc buried beneath her surface but every time it threatened to emerge, the author got bored of the character and turned his attention back to another sub plot.

So, how do I rate Graham’s Charlotte? Well, although I did like the general idea behind the plot and enjoyed a couple of the more exciting sequences, I fell that on the whole it just felt more like an early draft than a polished novel. There are a lot of inconsistencies within the character motivation and sub-plots frequently over shadow the running primary story (which is a real shame, as the “breaking into the NSA” plot showed some promise). The novel does leave some threads unanswered which I expect will be picked up future novels, and feel it will be interesting to see if Drew Farnsworth develops as a writer over these future instalments.

Graham’s Charlotte can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on

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