Sinister

Sinister

Sinister was first published in 2014 and is Colleen Fleshman’s debut young adult novel. It is an urban fantasy story based around the myth that left-handed people are servants of the devil. The novel forms the first part of the Sinisters series, but at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

It is on his sixteenth birthday that Matt Reynolds first sees something that isn’t there. Alien creatures flitter in the corners of his vision, interacting with the world around them but seeming to be invisible to the eyes of his friends. Although Matt is concerned that he is losing his mind, he finds out that this is not the case when he encounters Luke, a strange man who can seemingly also see the creatures.

Luke reveals to Matt that he is actually one of a tiny number of left-handed people who are able to fully utilise both sides of their brain. This mental strength gives them incredible powers and he will teach Matt how to use them if he joins him. Luke is actually Lucifer and for centuries he has recruited gifted left-handed people to become his Sinisters – agents responsible for maintaining the balance between good and evil.

Naturally, Matt is a bit unsure about this. While he wants to learn more about his powers, he’s fairly sure that trusting the Devil is a bad idea. Luke wants Matt’s help to uncover the plan of a shady business man named Peter Caracalla and put a stop to it but if Caracalla is the Devil’s enemy, wouldn’t that make him one of the good guys? However, as people begin to die mysteriously in his home town, Matt knows that something strange is going on and it’s up to him to use his new powers to put a stop it.

Sinister is a prime example of an interesting idea with clunky execution. I was drawn to this novel by the originality of its premise yet it was not quite the novel that I was expecting. The general concept – boy discovers that his left-handedness is a sign that he is magical – is not something that I’ve come across in a novel before and I really liked the way that Fleshman modernised this concept and gave it some basis in science.  Magic in Sinister has very fixed rules which are all based around core principles of physics (e.g. you can’t make something from nothing) which made a nice, solid grounding for how the Sinisters operated.

However, the delivery of these principles just feels far too heavy handed. Sinister is by no means a light novel. I can tell that the author has quite an understanding of science and mathematics but she never explains herself too well. Characters frequently discuss concepts such as Newtonian physics and Schrödinger’s Equation without ever really explaining what these things are. For people who aren’t science-minded like me, this quickly became tiring to read and (at the same time) the author had a rather annoying habit of bashing philosophy. Philosophy is not the enemy of hard science, it’s merely another way of analysing data. One passage in particular, when Matt suggested that utilitarians would think twice about their views if they loved their families more, showed a clear misunderstanding towards how this school of thought functions. I’m aware that this could be a very personal issue that I have towards this novel, based purely on my own education, but I did find that this story leaned towards physics and maths being the most important aspects of the world and so wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who isn’t similarly minded.

The novel also contained its own fascinating theology that I thought was brilliantly thought out. I really like the idea of God and the Devil working side by side and thought that Fleshman tied this idea back to the Old Testament in a really interesting way. The religious aspects of the story were also broached very subtly and so never felt especially as though the author was trying to make a statement, although I would have liked to learn a little more about God to better appreciate how Lucifer’s race operated. Yet, I do feel that the characterisation of Lucifer as a good guy has the capacity to offend some people and so would possibly advise caution to any very religious people who pick up this book.

In terms of plot, Sinister felt a little shallow in places. Although generally well written, it was very slow to start and initially raised a lot of questions while being slow to answer them. Additionally, while it tried to build a mystery regarding who the villain was, it was fairly obvious from the second chapter that Caracalla was up to something and therefore the climax did not pack anywhere near the punch that it should have done.

While answers did start to come in the final act, it felt that this was a little too late. Caracalla’s plan was only actually revealed within the last 20% of the novel and it only seemed to weakly connect with the clues that had lead up to it earlier in the story. I was vague as to why he dismantled his amulet or what the function of Schrodinger’s Equation was (though the latter could purely be due to the fact that the nature of this formula was never explained within the text and I don’t actually know what it is myself).

In terms of characterisation, the story was a bit of a mixed bag. Matt, though likable enough, came across as a bit of a special snowflake. He was blessed with abilities that were exceedingly rare (i.e. limited to both him and the villain) and absurdly powerful even among Sinisters and, naturally, was able to use these to save the day even though Caracalla had been practicing far longer and should theoretically have been a more powerful Sinister.

The supporting cast of the story was very large but only a couple of them served any real purpose within the novel – Anna and Oliver. I liked these two a lot more than Matt as they seemed to just have stronger personalities, both being good humoured and a little eccentric. Unfortunately, neither of them played much of a role in the climax. This was particularly galling for Anna, as she was a Sinister and initially showed far stronger powers than Matt, yet she was not even present for the final showdown. She could have been a strong heroine but, in the end, everything fell on Matt to save the day.

The most interesting thing for me was the villain. While it takes a long time to fully understand what Caracalla was doing, when it was eventually revealed it was actually really good plan. I’m a sucker for ethical dilemmas and Caracalla presents a really complex one. I won’t spoil it for you here as it is the closest thing that this story has to a twist but it was one of those plans where you can totally see where the villain is coming from (and his idea would probably work), yet it is still utterly horrifying what he must to fulfil it.

All in all, Sinister really wasn’t for me. I’m sure some readers will get a kick out of all its science-babble but I just found it to be long-winded and a little daunting. While the novel did have some good points, such as its original concept and well-thought-out villain, it was too slow moving and its protagonist was a bit of a Gary-Stu. I didn’t hate the story but I also don’t feel any burning desire to read its sequel any time soon.

Sinister can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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