I have this thing. I find it really difficult to write about things I love without coming across as overly effusive and entirely not objective. It's the reason why I didn't write about Doctor Who for years. Fact: I really liked Down World, the debut novel by Wattpad author Rebecca Phelps. I'm not alone either; Down World won the Watty Award for Best Young Adult Fiction for 2019 and will be released on Wattpad Books on 30 March 2021.
Why is it so difficult to review this book? Perhaps because Down World isn't so much a literary experience as an emotion; an impalpable feeling, a shiver of foreboding, strange afternoons where nothing makes much sense and the light has an uneasy undertone. It is a book that is felt and which drags the reader deeper down into the possibility of it all.
It has been compared to Netflix giants like Stranger Things and Dark, but those comparisons weren't particularly helpful. There is a world where you can like all speculative fiction, believe fiercely in all the possible worlds and not have to choose one or love one more than the other.
Nevertheless, I have to concede that if you enjoy mind-bending alternate reality stories or time manipulation, like Tenet, Stranger Things or The Man in the High Castle, you are indeed likely to enjoy Down World.
Marina O'Connell is still reeling from the unexplained death of her brother Robbie. There one minute, gone the next, Marina would do anything to see him again. But what if she could? What if there are alternative timelines, other worlds, different realities? When Marina meets Brady Picelli, it all begins to seem possible until Marina learns the terrible price that has to be paid when something is taken from one world into the other.
Would you destroy another world to save your own?
Down World is an astonishing debut that takes readers on a journey into the halcyon days of Marina's mother's youth and into a surreal alternative reality that is at once utopia and glaring dystopia, depending on which side of the street you're standing on. Some of the scenes reminded me of the deserted Cittàgazze in Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife. I recall reading The Subtle Knife and the impact of the imagery on me; I could see it in my mind's eye as if it had been lifted off a surrealist painting or Salvador Dali film. I felt the same with Down World; I could see these other worlds as if printed on old reels of film and Instamatic cameras.
With such vivid and palpable imagery, it would be criminal if Down World were not brought to life on television or screen. Also, while I loved that this was a standalone novel, I would equally love to see more from this strange world. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more work from Rebecca Phelps.
Down World is an experience, one that you'd need to experience yourself to understand, and I give it a superb five out of five stars. Recommended if, like me, you're truly in the mood for something different.
I received an electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.
Down World will be released on 30 March 2021 and you can pre-order from Amazon. You can also visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations (note: both these links are affiliate links; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you).