Downside Girls by Jaine Fenn

September 25, 2012

The floating city of Kesh rests above the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. For the Topsiders life is about luxury and opulence, while for those of the Undertow day to day survival takes precedence. Kesh City is a democracy by assassination, where the Angels – deadly state-sponsored killers – remove those unworthy to hold office.

When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship. The downsider Geal hopes for a better life topside, only to find herself embroiled in a ‘removal’ by the Angel Thiera. Downside, Isha’s brother Rakul brings a little black box home with him, and sets Isha on a journey that takes her to a meeting with the most powerful man in Kesh City. Larnia Mier, a talented topside musician and instructor, is injured after witnessing a removal first-hand. As her abilities diminish, new possibilities open up.

This short story anthology features four individual tales all set in the fantastical city of Kesh.

Collateral Damage – A chance meeting between two women in a bar acts as our introduction to the City of Kesh. Vanna is having trouble at home with her husband, while Malia is a newly risen Angel still unsure about her choice of new career. Over a number of weeks a friendship forms, but perhaps there is more to this friendship than there first appears.

Death on Elsewhere Street – Some of Kesh’s citizens will do whatever they can to avoid popping up on the Angels radar, Geal falls squarely into this group. Circumstance, however, leads her directly into the middle of an incident that is the stuff of her nightmares. Sometimes, no matter how hard you run from something you can’t avoid it.

Angel Dust – The gangs of the Undertow are the mirror to the political machinations that occur up above. Irrespective of their differences, the same power struggles and schemes occur in both areas of the society. If anything, the gangs may at least be a little bit more honest about their goals. Angel Dust illustrates just how aware the Angels, and their mysterious leader the Minister, are of everything that happens in every part of the city – above and below.

The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier – The final story in the collection focuses on Larnia, a musician with strong religious beliefs who is forced to re-evaluate her life after an accident.

If you have never read any of Jaine Fenn’s novels, I hadn’t before now, Downside Girls strikes me as being perfect place to start. There are some nice ideas that come across very well in her writing. The Angels, in particular, are a wonderful creation. I love the idea that they are the living embodiment of the people’s will. If any of the city’s politicians step out of line then the Angels deal with them without remorse. Is this perhaps not a policy that we could instigate when dealing with corruption in Westminster?

For such a small collection Downside Girls manages to cover a heck of a lot of ground. Using the unique world that she has created, Fenn takes the opportunity to explore topics as diverse as politics, gang culture, religion, the drug trade and gender. All four stories achieve exactly what they set out to do. The reader is offered a tantilising glimpse of a much larger world. It’s true that this collection is likely going to leave you with more questions than answers but I dont think this is a bad thing. The good news is that, as quick internet search reveals, there are other novels set in the same universe already published.

This collection contains some thought provoking science fiction with a memorable cast of characters. Kesh is a vibrant, fully realised city-state offering a wealth of possibilities. I look forward to my next visit.

Downside Girls is released by Clarion Publishing and the ebook is available now and the paperback will follow on the 9th November 2012.

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