Monday, February 12, 2018

Book Review: 'Underbelly' by S.P.M. Barrett

SPM Barrett (Sam) presents a debut novel that has substance, a keen sense of character development, and a story that will make you keep the lights on at night. In the author’s words, ‘I have written my first novel Underbelly, a blend of fantasy and sci-fi about a genetically engineered agent who is sent down to the Underbelly (a subterranean city beneath the Surface city) to assassinate the Underworld boss, who is the centre of corruption in the city. However upon arriving, she discovers a world of dragons, vampires and mental powers and begins to realise that not all is as black and white as it seems...’ And from this pique to the interest there are suggestions that this author is likely British (note the spelling) and has some intriguing ideas that beg exploring.

Writing style? The opening demonstrates a strong affinity for moody atmosphere: ‘It was one of those nights. The kind where the sky was as black as pitch but around the brilliant moon it was rendered grey. The cold was so sharp and fierce that each breath was almost like a new ghost was escaping from my body. I had never felt so alive. I was walking down an almost deserted street of the city of Limondipart, the capital of the Dynomamian Empire. It was that time between people arriving home from work and night people going out for their night duties. A quiet time….I stepped up to peer curiously over the railings that prevent people from falling into the Lavtum River, which divided the city in two. As I gazed into its murky depths, a memory of a pale faced girl regarded me with a placid expression. Her small pointed chin was digging into the thermal coat and her pale lips were a shy blue. It was her eyes that caught my attention; they were a caramel brown that seemed to hold the only heat in her face. The dark hair that framed her face resembled a halo protecting the face from the harsh outside world. I hardly recognised myself.’

Sam offers a synopsis that is well targeted: ‘My name is Merissa. I am an agent of the Dynomamian Empire. It’s my duty to find people who risk disrupting the Empire’s peace and end them. My latest assignment? To track down an Underbelly boss and assassinate him. My motive? He murdered my mother. The catch? He is also my father. My secret weapon? Genetic engineering has made me stronger and faster than any other human being. My disadvantage? My father has also been genetically engineered. This should be fun.’

It appears that with this first novel those who are lovers of science fiction and fantasy and genetic engineering have a new leader. Fresh, well written and worthy of attention. Sam Barrett has a handle on this genre. Grady Harp, April 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.