Every publisher is always looking for the ‘next big thing’, be it a new Hunger Games or Potter the hunt is always on. The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare (Alex Wayfare Series) by M.G. Buehrlen could well be that ‘thing’.
Teenager Alex is argumentative, stroppy, the bane of her teacher’s lives, and a constant worry to her parents. She knows this though and is often racked with guilt, especially as she feels she could never tell them the reasons why she plays up. For years she has been having visions of past events; be it stuck on a ship feeling sick, to witnessing horrific starvation in Jamestown, all her visions are sensory, realistic and unexplained. When she comes out of these episodes, she’s often left with marks from injuries and totally overwhelmed, which goes some way to explaining her behaviour, especially when she’s ‘zoned out’ during school. School is a problem for Alex in a big way. Isolated and unpopular, except with childhood friend Jensen who’s attempts at bonding are always met with suspicion and doubt by Alex, she finds solace in the A.V. club where she can hide away with her main passion of fixing things up.
After several smaller visions, Alex has a monumental experience when she blacks out and finds herself right in the middle of 1920’s Chicago. Once she’s got her head together and checked herself out in a nearby window (Alex’s appearance changes each time, sometimes it’s just eye colour, other’s it’s a full body makeover, but still recognisably Alex) she’s caught up in a mob hit on a local store. It’s here that she meets the man who will change her life forever, ‘Blue’, but only after they’re both involved in a violent fight with gangsters, and Alex discovers abilities she never realised she had.
When she comes around (bruised and with a nasty cut to the back of her head) and runs from class, she finds a flyer with a note on it specifically for her, leading Alex to the mysterious Porter, and finally, the answers she’s been looking for. Alex is a descender, created by a research team to travel in time using the ‘soulmarks’ left in Limbo by Alex’s 56 previous lives. Porter has been protecting Alex from Gesh one of the founders of company AIDA, who is now manipulating soulmarks to make him the most powerful man in the World, and totally untouchable, and the novel then follows them as they try to take Gesh down from the inside.
Buehrlen has created a believable sci-fi World that, although the ‘taking down the big bad’ trope is a well used one, we’re allowed to get used to the main characters in Alex’s universe before the arc gets complex, which I imagine will start with book 2 as the first novel is left on a crafty cliffhanger. I liked Alex. I know some reviews have called her whiny and spoilt, but I think they miss her guilt and regret, especially over the pain she’s causing her parents at a time when they should be caring for her sister with cancer. Her anger and confusion is handled well, as is her inability to trust anyone, and when the truth comes slowly rattling out you can fully understand why.
This is a good solid start to a new YA franchise, and one that could easily appeal to either gender, especially if the male figures are given enough growth and emphasis in the second novel. The narrative is fast-paced, with plenty of action, and although it’s a big part of the story arc, any romance is kept to a minimum. Buehrlen handles the time periods well, evoking each with strong detail, without reverting to pages of historical facts, and you really pick up Alex’s feelings about each one (her opinions on the 1960’s are refreshing).
All-in-all, I’d be happy to pick this series up, as I would imagine, any TV or movie exec will shortly.
This novel was supplied to me via NetGalley as an advance review copy in return for a balanced review.
Read as part of the Clean Sweep Challenge