I became a fan of R.J. Anderson's books when I read her Faerie series earlier this year. (my reviews here and here) I was very excited about the release of Ultraviolet , particularly as it was going to be a different sort of book. I was eager to see what Anderson would do with a different concept. This book did not disappoint. It was an engrossing, thought provoking, and entertaining read. When I write reviews I like them to be somewhat substantive and not just, "Wow this book was great, I loved it, go read it." It is going to be more of a challenge to do that for this book because saying much about the book is difficult without mentioning spoilers. I shall try my best though.
Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. Her hair flowed like honey and her eyes were blue as music. She grew up bright and beautiful with deft fingers, a quick mind, and a charm that impressed everyone she met. Her parents adored her, her teachers praised her, and her schoolmates admired her many talents. Even the oddly shaped birthmark on her upper arm seemed like a sign of some great destiny. This is not her story. Unless you count the part where I killed her.
Alison is in trouble. After years of trying to suppress and hide the strange way she perceives the world through colors and sound she finds herself in a psychiatric hospital suspected of killing one of her classmates. The problem is there is no body and little evidence. Alison was the last person to see Tory. They fought and then Alison came home upset, with blood on her hands, out of control, and claiming she saw Tory disintegrate. When Dr. Sebastian Faraday turns up at the hospital and not only discovers the reason for Alison's strange perceptions, but also completely believes her story about Tory she has new hope. And it doesn't hurt that Faraday is good looking with an entrancing accent either. Just when Alison thinks things might improve they go from strange to stranger and she discovers a whole new world of knowledge.
This story has a lot going for it: mystery, suspense, psychological oddities, a little romance, and then the other stuff that you have to read the book to discover. There are several elements of it that could have gone horribly wrong or been terribly awkward if Anderson were not so good at what she does. She took some real risks with this concept and they were definitely worth it.
Alison is the one telling us her story and it is told in first person. If you don't like unreliable narrators this book will drive you crazy. Alison, as a patient in a mental hospital on anti-psychotic drugs, is the very definition of unreliable. I like unreliable narrators and Alison is one whose voice will capture you even if you don't completely trust her. She is extremely sympathetic and you can't help but want her to be telling the truth.
The relationship between Alison and Faraday is quite possibly the best executed part of this story. It could have been super creepy (and not just because of the age difference and the whole doctor/patient thing), but Anderson managed to avoid the disturbing relationship issue while also turning out a stomach fluttering romance.
I was also impressed with the portrayal of Alison's hospital and experiences in it. The hospital workers and doctors are portrayed as real people, some of whom are dedicated to their jobs and some of whom are simply earning paychecks. None of them are evil or abusive. Some of them are kind of clueless but you find those people anywhere. Overall they are portrayed as helpful professionals. The other patients are portrayed sympathetically, even the ones that hurt Alison and make her miserable. The books referenes to psychiatry and psychiatric drugs are delivered in ways that allows readers to draw their own conclusions (and in my case do some internet research).
The only small complaint I had was that the last couple of pages were a little less subtle than I would have liked. According to R.J. Anderson's website there will be a sequel coming out in 2013, which seems an awful long time from now. Though in the meantime her fourth Faerie book Swift will be released in the UK so we have that to look forward to.