Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
Through the Ages opens with our protagonist Eliza Fox strolling down the leaf-cobbled streets of a quaint New English town. She stalks some old couple as they shuffle between the haberdasher and the malt shop or whatever it is old people get up to, and seethes with jealousy. You see, Eliza is one of those TV child stars. Her family does a ghost hunting show, and it sucks. The lifestyle, not the show. I haven’t seen the show, but given what an easy mark I am when it comes to reality television, I’d probably watch the whole thing. Eliza’s mother is a domineering figure whose only concern is the care and feeding of her baby, the show. Eliza is a loose cannon who’s on thin-ice-Johnson, and also fat. Gotta make time to give your daughter an eating disorder. The real world is hardly any better, full of fawning stans who don’t get how their voyeurism affects her, or boys who don’t want to date her because of… I don’t know, pointy elbows I guess. A few minutes alone in a sleepy little town is the only vacation she can look forward to.
In general Sarah Allder does a good job of making minor celebrity look like a prison sentence. But I never find it very compelling when the protagonist starts off in sad, Debra No-Date territory. It’s a romance. We know the hunky guy is going to be obsessed with her in, like, two paragraphs. Just watch. In the cute little cafe, Eliza gets accosted by a human Star Wars crawl, who presumably wanders the Earth seeking young protagonists with the whiff of a Scene I fade in still hanging off of them, so she can swoop in and tell them why nobody in town crosses the tracks after dark. Margie, Arg to her friends, tells Eliza about the Crowe Manor. So, rewind. The Fox Family Ghastly Ghosts n’ Friends is in town to do a bit on the Crowe Manor, so they can pretend to be scared and exploit society’s desire to believe in something frightening that’s not climate change for once. Luckily for us, Eliza didn’t do any research, so she gets to sit and listen to the local chamber of commerce list all the bad things that happen there, in accordance with Massachusetts state law. The keystone of the story is the murder of William Crowe by his incel failson brother Oliver.
And boy, does she get into it. This lady delivers exposition like a coal barge. As it went on and on, the backstory started to blend psychedelically with the other conspicuous feature of Allder’s writing: the fact that she needs to tell you every inane detail. We read about a phone coming out of a threadbare cardigan pocket; we read about it descending back into said cardigan pocket. Strangers momentarily pause as they walk down the street, then, after that, continue walking in the same direction. We receive regular updates on the state of puddles. There is a running subplot about a cup of tea that goes from being slightly too hot to moderately hot, to just right. There are rocks on the sidewalk. But wait, there’s less! Pumpkin spice lattes get a sociological breakdown, while tea gets a nutritional one. Then it all loops back to Margie Barge, who is still talking about this one house through history like it’s the architectural equivalent of Black Adder. It’s like Allder is stalling for time, but then the thing she doesn’t want to get into yet is also an interminable wasteland of chatter anyway, so the prose cycles back to counting spots on the linoleum like it’s bored with itself.
But luck, Hunk Dude is here (see, I don’t you). William Crowe is a ghost, and wears ruffles because this is that kind of romance. He is immediately obsessed with Eliza and doesn’t think her elbows could pop a balloon at all, no matter what her mother says. Not only is he infatuated with the certain… energy, the certain… je ne sais quoi, the certain… protagonistness of this young woman, but he also muses to himself that she might be “the one.” If you’re like me, you have the same thought about all these romances with a hot guy from Kate and Leopold times. He’s… He’s gotta be super racist, right? Or sexist? At the very least, he’s going to “just have some questions about crime and Black culture.” And he’s going to talk funny. There’s this thing called the Kissinger age. See, Henry Kissinger and his brother came to American when they were fifteen and fourteen, respectively. Walter Kissinger lost his accent, while Henry Kissinger spoke with a distinct accent until his death in (checks notes) Jesus Christ, he’s still alive? The point is, anyone who’s old enough to have hot, consensual Bridgerton sex with (OK, bad example) does not have full linguistic plasticity. As the centuries go by, they’re just not going to keep up. Our boy Billy is definitely going to speak in Gregorian chants. About ethics in games journalism. I can’t be the only one who thinks this when reading these books, right?
I’m not going to spoil the middle any more than to say that there’s sock-hop-and-Suzie-Q time travel, chosen one underworld transiting, and of course breakfast in bed. But I could. I could spoil all of it and it wouldn’t matter, because about ten pages before the end of the book Sarah Allder stomped her manuscript into the garbage and wrote the ending to another book instead. I can’t even describe to you the experience of feeling my Kindle administer Ambien directly through my eyeballs for hundreds of pages, with entire subchapters dedicated to the texture of water droplets falling on a newspaper, or the progress of a boiling pot of water, only to be picked up at the very end and thrown off a building. I wish I could tell you all about it, but even if I wanted to I don’t think I could.
This is the sort of thing that makes me appreciate indie books. There are just so many people throwing spaghetti at the wall, and every once in a while somebody runs out of spaghetti and just throws a live squid against their kitchen tiles. Does Through the Ages work? Who knows, who cares? But it’s the first part of a trilogy, and it definitely hooked me, so I guess? Through The Ages is five dollars on Kindle.
Hamilton rearranged for Gregorian chant actually doesn’t sound that bad.Tweet