|Design by Julia Lloyd|
Titan Books, 13 July 2021
Available as: PB, 663pp, e, audio
Source: Advance e-copy via NetGalley
I'm grateful to the publisher for a free advance copy of The Somebody People via NetGalley.
The Somebody People picks up where The Nobody People, one of my favourite books of last year, paused. As Proehl notes in his acknowledgements, it is more like the second half of a story than a sequel and if you haven't read the first book yet there would be a lot of value in reading one immediately after the other as there are many linking storylines, key events and things whose significance evolves from one book to the next. I didn't do that of course, but I still found The Somebody People an exciting, satisfying and cathartic ending to the whole story.
The first book introduces the idea of "Resonants" - individuals with what we'd call superpowers. Their number has apparently been increasing through the second half of the 20th century and The Nobody People tells how they are eventually forced to go public provoking a storm of prejudice and, eventually, persecution.
That story was told partly through the eyes of Avi Hirsch, a journalist injured while embedded with the Army in Iraq, and we saw his increasing obsession with the Resonants alongside the slow collapse of his marriage to Kay. By the time The Somebody People opens, Hirsch is out of the picture but his daughter Emmeline features in the second book as do many of the characters from the first one. There are also some flashbacks to the earlier life of Kevin Bishop, the mysterious head of a school for Resonant kids in New York, including one that describes how it all started
Alongside the treatment of Resonants as a persecuted group, The Nobody People also pointed to a militant faction among them and this - and the reason behind it - features strongly in the present book, set a decade or so later following a Civil War in which the Resonants and in particular that Black Rose Faction gained the upper hand. There is an atmosphere of ethnic cleansing and segregation in the background of The Somebody People with battle lines drawn and the survivors of Bishop's circle seeking to defeat the evil that seems to be driving the Faction. The action to that end is complex, with multiple plot threads and various characters trying to cope, principally Fahima Deeb who's managing badly in the absence of ex-girlfriend Alyssa. Alyssa is a "baseliner" ie a "normal" person - referred to by the hardliners in the Black Rose Faction as "damps" - and had to leave New York during the "evacuations".
It's all fast moving and Proehl throws in concepts such as multiple timelines, extra-dimensional spaces and something very close to possession, to support or impede our heroes as they try to safeguard humanity and see off the Faction. There's a haunting sense of moral ambiguity (I love the smell of moral ambiguity in the morning...) as we know that the extremes seen here are in part a reaction to the persecution shown in The Nobody People. Characters here are damaged in various ways, physically and mentally, by what was done to them, or suffering from guilt at what they have done. There is a real sense in Proehl's writing that people make mistakes and do bad things for good reasons. There is also more than attach of PSTD in many of them. It all feels very real for a world with superpowered inhabitants - the stress is on the human dimension not the wondrous abilities - and there are very few characters I didn't have at least a sneaking sympathy for.
My favourites were possibly the gay couple Dom(inic) and Clay, Resonants with secure middle class jobs and an adopted boy at a prestigious school, who become concerned about what is happening around them and about his future and - rather than seeking sober advice - embark on what I feel are some spectacularly ill thought out plans, landing themselves in the centre of the action as a result. I enjoyed that despite it all, they seek to secure their relationship and protect their boy and that they are in a sense ordinary people who for most of the story are just trying to survive but who achieve some very brave things. Most of all, despite those dubious decisions, their hearts are always in the right place.
But there are many others here worth a mention. Kimani, perhaps, whose special power is to be able to create a room, outside space, which she can make appear anywhere on Earth (oh please, I want that ability!) and who uses it to shelter Emmeline. There's something special about Emmeline, and one of the themes of this book is her discovering that for herself and trying to learn how she can avoid being used by others, inevitably bringing her into conflict with both "sides" here.
In short, The Somebody People is both a rattling good story in its own right and an excellent completion of The Nobody People, teasing out themes that were sketched there and creating a wholeness to the story that confirms it is, indeed, a unity. I would recommend.
For more information about The Somebody People, see the publisher's website here.