Author: Ian Beck
Release date: UK Paperback 5th July 2010
Genre: Historical fiction/ Mystery / YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pastworld is the greatest theme park ever devised. It's London - the real London - transformed into a living, breathing recreation of the Victorian era. To Eve, a lifelong resident of Pastworld, horse-drawn carriages and gas lamps are modern technology. Eve doesn't even know she's living in a simulation - until she is forced to flee the only home she's ever known, and to confront the truth about her city and herself. To Caleb, a tourist visiting Pastworld, the theme park is the perfect antidote to the stifling conformity and regulation of 2048. The gritty wildness of the past is thrilling - until he finds himself at the scene of a murder, holding the knife, and suddenly becomes a fugitive from an antiquated justice system. And in the midst of it all, in the thick London fog, a dark and deadly figure prowls, claiming victim after victim. He's the Fantom, a creature both of the past and of the future, in whose dark purpose Caleb and Eve will find their destinies combined.
Pastworld is a truly gripping read, offering a slightly different insight into Victorian London from an entirely different perspective.
In the novel, Pastworld is the greatest theme park ever created. It's a very authentic recreation of the Victorian era. Most people who live in Pastworld know it's an invented world. But for some people, like Eve, the Victorian London is a real place and they do not know it's only a theme park set in London in 2048. The tourists to Pastworld are called ''Gawkers'' and it is precisely what they do: they gawk and marvel at the past that is now available to them not only through books and the internet, but they can actually experience it firsthand.
The story focuses on Eve, a teenage Victorian girl who has spent all her life believing that her Victorian London is real, but she has never seen much of it as her guardian Jack keeps her more or less secluded from the outside world. One day, Eve learns why quite by accident: apparently, she is in danger. Not wanting to endanger her dear guardian with her presence and wishing to finally see all of London and experience an adventure, she runs away and joins a circus. There, she discovers she is extremely talented for rope-walking. Her new life shows her things she never knew about herself and which puzzle and delight her in equal measure. She also gets an admirer, a true (Victorian) Londoner known as Bible J, who is what one would call a good-natured, honest thief. All the while, Eve remains in danger, not knowing that the man who is after her is the most dangerous and notorious criminal and murderer extraordinaire of Pastworld: Fantom.
I am very excited about Fantom's character. He is a great villain, based on Jack the Ripper and made even worse. He is not merely a brutal killer, as the Ripper is known to have been. He is very intelligent and cold. He kills with precision and no remorse. He is hard to catch because only authentic Victorian methods of investigation can be used in this London. The author did a great job with Fantom and fans of villains will surely know how to appreciate this frightening character. Fantom wants Eve and when it is said what exactly she means to him, how the two are connected in a twisted, macabre way, the revelation is quite startling and strangely thrilling.
There is also Caleb, the son of one of Pastworld's creators. During his first visit to Pastworld, he does not have time to enjoy this amazingly authentic Victorian world. Mere moments after first walking the streets of the London of the past, he and his father are attacked, separated and Caleb accused of a murder that he did not commit. So, Caleb becomes a fugitive, but upon meeting Bible J, his situation begins to look a bit less dire - yet not for long. Through Bible J, he meets Eve and senses an inexplicable connection to her that is not of a romantic nature, but is only slightly less twisted than the one between Eve and Fantom. Caleb is pulled into Fantom's nightmare and it becomes apparent that Eve, Caleb and Fantom are all connected in a terrifying way.
I truly enjoyed reading about the Pastworld London. It is obvious the author employed research to make it truly authentic. The suspense was very delightful and kept me turning the pages. The ending is very intense and open, which, I hope, means that there might be a sequel in the future. I'd definitely want to read a Pastworld sequel. The one thing I found lacking in the novel was London in 2048. Naturally, the focus was on Pastworld and Pastworld was made truly alive and real. But I missed mentions of London in 2048. It would have been nice to know if things have changed or stayed the same in reality.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable read, featuring good characters, a great villain and Victorian London as never imagined before. I truly hope there is room for a sequel; the ending is very promising. This novel is perfect for readers who like historical fiction, mysteries and even dystopia and steampunk, as there is definitely a vague dystopian and steampunkish feel present in the novel.
Becky says: This sounds so thrilling Irena! Also the villian sounds terrifying. It is a fascinating concept. I wonder if there will ever be theme parks based on the past. I know we have the London Dungeon but that doesn't have rip-roaring rides or anything. Mind you it scared me senseless. I hate people in costume. They freak me out!
Both our thanks go to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book to review.