Hayley: ★★★ (3 stars)
Hannah: ★★★ (3 stars)
Synopsis from Goodreads: When Alex Morris loses her fiancé in dreadful circumstances, she moves from London to Edinburgh to make a break with the past. Alex takes a job at a Pupil Referral Unit, which accepts the students excluded from other schools in the city. These are troubled, difficult kids and Alex is terrified of what she’s taken on. There is one class – a group of five teenagers – who intimidate Alex and every other teacher on The Unit. But with the help of the Greek tragedies she teaches, Alex gradually develops a rapport with them. Finding them enthralled by tales of cruel fate and bloody revenge, she even begins to worry that they are taking her lessons to heart, and that a whole new tragedy is being performed, right in front of her…
Why did I read this book?
Hayley: I’d seen it recommended online so when I found it in a bookshop whilst on holiday I decided to pick up a copy.
Hannah: When I heard The Amber Fury was set in Edinburgh and about teenagers with “issues” I knew I had to read it. The glowing reviews I saw all over the place added to my excitement – and apparently that of many other people in Angus, as I had to wait months for my turn with the library’s copy!
Favourite thing about the book:
Hayley: I read it during a reading slump and it managed to keep me engaged enough to finish it quite quickly and I remained gripped during a long train journey.
Hannah: How gripping it was – I read it in a day. You know something bad will happen but you don’t know what or when, and the tension builds perfectly.
Hayley: + I liked how the focus on teaching troubled teens didn’t end in an inspirational movie way, that element was part of the book that felt quite realistic.
Hannah: + Declare me a philistine if you want but I’ve never been bothered about classical literature and although I’m not about to rush out and buy a book on Greek myths or plays this did show them to be more interesting than I’d previously assumed.
+ I liked the character of Mel and analysing her ambivalent motives.
+ The book asks good questions about professional boundaries and whether certain jobs are appropriate for certain people at certain times of their lives.
+ The bereavement aspect of the plot was well-handled – it reminded me of Maggie O’Farrell’s After You’d Gone (which is one of my favourite books), especially as it too is set in Edinburgh and London.
+ Its Edinburgh setting (although it is very much a “tourist’s Edinburgh” that we see).
Least favourite thing about the book:
Hayley: Despite getting the job via her friend I didn’t find it very believable that Alex was given the job considering that a) she has no teaching qualification and b) is drowning under grief and quite unstable and vulnerable as a result.
Hannah: I’m not entirely convinced that the kids would be as interested in Alex’s lessons as they appear to me – it was one of those wonder-teacher kind of stories that i’m always dubious of (like that movie Dangerous Minds), though obviously she didn’t work complete miracles (slight understatement?).
Hayley: – I found that plot quite predictable and as I neared the conclusion I really found myself hoping for a big twist and when there wasn’t one I felt quite deflated.
– I detected an element of a class divide/class snobbery between Alex and the pupils and Alex and the woman implicated in her partner’s death.
– I agree with Hannah that it seems unlikely the pupils would be so interested in the greek tragedies and this seemed more like a way of indulging Alex’s interests and expertise than anything else. I’d also like to think there would be more of a formal structure in place for her lessons to adhere to?
– Alex isn’t very distinctive as a character so I found her and the other character’s difficult to empathise with.
Hannah: – Rather like Catherine in Elizabeth Haynes’ Into The Darkest Corner which I read a few months ago protagonist Alex was cast at an unrealistically young age. By the age of twenty five she has achieved far more in both her directing (and, as the novel progresses, teaching) careers than anyone I’ve ever met (especially those who want to work in the arts). If she had been five or even three years older it would have been a tad more credible.
– I would have liked to have read more from Mel’s perspective (I did enjoy the alternating narration but 50% of each would have been preferable to the balance that was struck in favour of Alex).
– Relatedly, I didn’t think Alex and Mel’s voices were sufficiently distinct from each other. The main difference seemed to be that Mel swore more.
– Alex was a bit of a non-character and not someone I could relate to, though maybe that was partly because she was grieving and therefore understandably preoccupied.
Hayley: Robert was most likeable but I would have liked to see him developed more.
Hannah: Robert (and his partner Jeff).
Hayley: Everyone else.
Hannah: Alex’s mum.
I recommend this book to:
Hayley: I’m not sure I would really recommend this book but it would definitely suffice as a book to read whilst travelling as it’s gripping enough but not vastly memorable.
Hannah: ~ People who want to read something absorbing and well-paced, with some interesting teenage characters and a story that’s not run of the mill.
~ Anyone interested in learning a little about ancient Greek plays.
Thank you to Hayley (Twitter: here; blog: here) in joining me for this review! ♥