I wonder if at some point this book had the working title of ‘The Steeplejack and the Journalist’, as I think I’ve read those words more in this one book than anywhere else; definitely when it comes to ‘steeplejack’. Joking aside, however, these two characters are definitely the main focus of the book, with little to no other characters making much of an impact upon the narrative mystery.
The Breach sees Freya, a young journalist working at a small publication looking for her big story, stumbling across the beginnings of a mystery when Stephen, a young climber, dies in an apparent drunken accident. It doesn’t take long for Freya to discover that things don’t quite make sense surrounding Stephen’s death. Getting to the bottom of what happened to him becomes something of an obsession for her, eventually leading her into the illegal, underground world of urban exploration, where she meets Shep, a steeplejack.
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Shep leads Freya into the world of urban exploration, and the two of them become exposed to something that may have led to Stephen’s death: a mysterious nest hidden deep inside an abandoned bunker.
There’s definitely a sense of mystery to The Breach, as most of the chapters that follow Freya involve her looking for answers in some form or another. Out of the two leads Freya is definitely the audience vehicle. She has a more recognisable life than Shep, and it’s a lot easier to settle into this not too distant future with her. She’s a young adult trying to make her way in the world, to forge her career, but has fallen on some bad luck and some poor decision making, leading her to have to move back in with her parents and to feel dejected with her job. That’s something a lot of people can identify with.
Shep, on the other hand, is something of an outsider. For starters, his work is something that most people would have no experience of, and even if you’re familiar with the term ‘steeplejack’ you might find yourself struggling to explain what the job actually entails. Even in his job Shep’s a loner, never really being able to make friends with his co-workers, and being treated like the weirdo colleague no one wants to talk to. I don’t think we even see him interact with anyone in his life either, there’s no family or friends, he never goes to his home, he just sleeps in his van and hangs out on his own.
Perhaps it’s because of how much of a loner Shep is, but his segments of the book definitely take on a more surreal feel. Thanks to this mysterious nest that he and Freya are exposed to he seems to be going through a series of physical and psychological changes that read as very trippy. Coupled with his already unusual behaviour in the early parts of the book, these bizarre changes makes him read as a very unreliable narrator, and it is never clear if the things in his chapters were actually happening, or some kind of delusion.
Sadly, the book is very light on the ground when it comes to answers. For the vast majority of the book things are happening with no explanation or even hint as to what or why. Shep is falling to pieces, and Freya is losing her mind, but we don’t know why. Yes, there’s a theory presented in the first few pages but then there’s nothing more for three hundred pages. Even right at the end when we get given some more information there’s no actual answer as to what’s happening or why.
I know that this is a type of storytelling, to subject the characters and readers to a series of bizarre events that destroy them psychologically, and to give no answers so as to maintain a sense of mystery and horror, but if I’m honest I don’t find that kind of storytelling to be very satisfying. Sadly, we’re not given anything more than vague hints, and so I left the book feeling like nothing happened and that there was no conclusion.
This is a personal take however, and I’m sure that some people won’t be bothered by these factors and will enjoy the book. The rest of it is good, it’s well written and the characters are fleshed out and engaging. However, how much you enjoy the book will definitely depend on if you like unanswered questions or not.
The Breach is out now from Titan Books.