The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H G Parry

January 30, 2020

For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world… and for once, it isn’t Charley’s doing.

There’s someone else who shares his powers. It’s up to Charley and a reluctant Rob to stop them, before these characters tear apart the fabric of reality.

I’ll begin this review with a couple of apologies. Firstly, I didn’t manage to complete a review to tie in with the publication date of the novel last week. Sometimes, when I find myself entirely engrossed in a book that I adore, I like to revel in it and take my time. Secondly, when I write a review about a book I adore, I have something of a tendency to wax a bit more lyrical than normal. Ok, ok I’ll admit it, I gush. Prepare yourself for some serious gushing, I sense it on the horizon. Put it this way, as soon as I opened The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H G Parry, I knew that we were going to be firm friends.

Charley Sutherland has that distracted air of an academic, a genius when it comes to the works of classic fiction, but an absolute mess as a normal human being. You know the sort; super smart but with less common sense than a house brick. I can imagine Charley could waffle on for hours about the socio-economic impact of the class system in Dickens work, but would be unable to locate his own house keys on a regular basis. He is sweet natured but absent minded, the quintessential daydreamer. He does however have a problem. Whenever Charley gets too caught up in any novel, classical literary figures have a tendency to appear in the flesh.

Rob is the polar opposite in almost every respect. He is Charley’s antithesis; practical, level- headed and often exasperated by his sibling. It’s clear that Rob loves his brother completely, but he doesn’t quite understand him. Rob has spent a long time looking out for Charley. Being a big brother can be hard, even more so when they can conjure fictional characters out of thin air.

I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t offer additional kudos to the author for their version of Uriah Heep. He appears deliciously obsequious, but I get the distinct impression he would smile at you one moment and then happily slit your throat the next. Heep is a creature of jealousy, spite, cowardice and envy. It all makes for quite the heady combination. When he suddenly appears in their life, Charley and Rob have to decide if Heep should be reasoned with or feared. How exactly does this Dickens antagonist tie in with the rise of other fictional beings appearing on the streets of Wellington?

The thing I enjoy most about the novel is its premise. I’m at my happiest when I’m tucked away, all cosy, in my little Hobbit-hole of a house. I’ll have a book in hand, a warm drink close by and music will be playing quietly in the background. The best stories I’ve read capture my imagination and steadfastly refuse to let go. The author makes their characters feel real. H G Parry has taken things one step further and the results are absolutely blissful. There are a heck of a lot of characters I would love to meet face to face if I had the opportunity. Thinking about it, there are a heck of a lot I would never like to meet as well*.

You still need more reasons to read this book? Where else are you going find Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens arguing the merits of fiction? Or Roald Dahl’s most precocious voice, Matilda, living on the same street as multiple Mr Darcy’s? You’ll discover The White Queen wearing a leather jacket and riding a motorbike while Heathcliff broods in that angry antihero-esque way that only that only he can. It’s a veritable who’s who of literary characters. Dorian Grey is a particular joy.

I was talking to another book blogger recently who had also read the novel. Both of us were taken by how eloquently Parry perfectly describes what the action of reading can mean to an avid reader. I won’t spoil anything by recounting the details here, suffice to say we both wholeheartedly agreed with her description.

Parry’s novel highlights one of the things I love most about fiction. We all interpret characters in our own way. Charley spends his time dissecting the layers that go into making a character like Uriah Heep or Fagin. When he pulls one of them from a book, that creation is not just that of the author it is also informed by Charley’s interpretation of the text. When we read, I think we are all drawn towards different facets of a character. If we could make our imaginings flesh I’m sure there would be similarities, but there would also be a multitude of our own unique differences.

There is a sentiment expressed early in the novel that I think pretty much says it all.

We’re all just words.

Biology aside, I couldn’t agree more. We are all the author of our own adventure and when it is all said and done, all that is left is the words we leave behind. It pleases me when a book gives me plenty to ponder and gets my old grey cells firing.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep was so much fun to read.  I hope Parry considers revisiting the characters again in the future. There is so much potential to be had. I’d gladly read any sequel to this novel immediately. Entertaining, exciting, engrossing and lots of other words that begin with ‘e’, I will heartily recommend this novel to any reader who is willing to listen to me.

I often find myself agonising about what music I should recommend to accompany a novel but in this instance it could not have been easier. Back in 2016 the BBC produced a drama called Dickensian, all of Charles Dickens literary creations living in the same Victorian London neighbourhood where foul deeds are afoot. The music by Debbie Wiseman is a perfect fit to H G Parry’s wonderfully evocative debut novel.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is published by Orbit and available now.

*I can confirm at this point while writing the review I fell down a bit of a rabbit hole regarding which characters would fall into either of those two criteria. Turns out, both lists were extremely long.

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