Dory’s Avengers by Alison Jack

Cover of Dory's Avengers by Alison JackI enjoy alternative history – or alternate history as the Americans prefer to call it, to my constant annoyance, disregarding the meaning of the word alternate.

So I was pleased when the author of Dory’s Avengers approached me after my talk at the Cambridge Literary Festival to present me with a complimentary copy of her debut novel. This beautifully produced hardback’s striking, sinister cover design intrigues the reader to get stuck in. Her gift reminded me of the tactile pleasure to be had from this sturdy physical book format.

The Dilemma

Although I was slightly daunted by the book’s length (over 500 pages), I lapped up the intriguing preface which sets the scene for an alternative Britain of 2012, in which the nation is divided between the Sponsored and Unsponsored. Yes, it’s commercial sponsorship gone mad, dividing the nation into overlords and underclass. In this well-written preface, which reminded me of Evelyn Waugh’s and Aldous Huxley’s social class satires, a rebellion is foretold by a supposed seer, lighting a fuse of intrigue and hope  from the outset.  Dory’s Avengers tells the tale of one small group of people’s mission to overthrow the regime.

While the story is really of national divide, it’s spelled out as a conflict between a relatively small (but still pretty large) group of characters, most of whom are related to each other. This makes it much more engaging than a purely political story. There’s quite a bit of bullying and violence in the narrative, and a lot of bed-hopping along the way adds spice. Neither aspect is very graphic, but it’s definitely an adults-only book.

The choice of 2012 allows the dystopia to coincide with Britain’s turn to host the Olympic Games. One of the key characters in the book is an Unsponsored young man, Louis, who is a gifted gymnast training to Olympic standards but not allowed to compete because of his social status. (As an aside, I happen to know a boy named Louis who is also a gifted gymnast with his heart set on the 2020 Olympics, so that added extra interest for me.)

The Detail

All of the characters are interesting, and a lot of the good guys are very likeable. Some significant character change and development goes on (no plot spoilers here though!) which keeps the story interesting in spite of the black-and-white divide. I especially liked Louis and his trainer Gideon. Bringing the Olympic theme into the plot was a useful device to provide a unifying contrast to the divided British society – a neat and timely parallel.

The sense of place also added interest, as the story was split between two main venues: the London headquarters of the Sponsored and the rebellious Lake District village of Applethwaite. The places become symbolic for the two opposing forces of evil and good, respectively.

The Length

Although I enjoyed reading the hardback edition, the physical weight of the book made me very conscious of the book’s length and how long it was taking me to read it. (Rheumatoid arthritis makes my hands ache when holding even a paperback book open for long, hence my Kindle addiction.) It’s a much longer book than the average novel – 566 pages – and when my hands were feeling the strain, I did start to wonder whether it might have benefited from being edited down a little. I suspect the length has also dictated its relatively high price: £5.49 for the ebook and £18 for the paperback at the time of writing. It would be a shame if the cost and the length discouraged some readers from reading this interesting and thought-provoking book.


One thought on “Dory’s Avengers by Alison Jack

  1. Interestingly my publisher did comment on the length of the manuscript when I first signed with them, so I was expecting a hatchet job from the editor. Instead, he deleted a mere 100 words! The price of the book makes me very sad as I’m sure that discourages potential readers, and every author wants as many people as possible reading their work. Unfortunately, decisions concerning the price are out of my hands for the time being. Thank you so much for this beautifully written review, and for the shout out for my editing service, Debbie. I’m delighted 🙂

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