Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Gracie. Time to go."
"Not yet. Mia is coming to say good-bye."
Arrrrgghhhhh. 271 pages in to this 534-page tome, just past the halfway point, and I could feel a little tickle in the tear ducts beginning... I'll give no spoilers - which is actually going to be impossible, thinking about it so forget that - but suffice to say, some goodbyes will haunt you... Even if it's only one you're reading about rather than experiencing first hand... I then spent the remaining 263 pages desperately hoping that Mia would... could... somehow... sniff... where's my hanky...?
Speaking of moist moments, I have to say, as a complete digression, I almost had another one reading the afterword. It is one of the sweetest, most complimentary ones I think I might ever have read. It is certainly one that only Tillie could have written. Bless her, just when you thought you couldn't love her any more than you already did!
Right, what to expect from this epic interstellar romance set in two time periods a mere five yet interminably long years apart...?
Well, we will see the budding romance between moderately tough-nut fourteen-year-old Mia and the mysterious new girl at school Gracie. They are quite literally worlds, if not galaxies apart, and yet... there's a mutual attraction which neither can deny. Mia doesn't particularly want to. Gracie it seems might, but then all that's to do with the whopper of a secret she's hiding...
"You're an IDIOT."
"I said you're an IDIOT. You don't get it, do you?"
"I like ALL of you, Grace. Even the parts I don't get yet. I'm not dating the 12% of you that I understand, I'm dating 100% of you. Including all your secrets that I don't know. So don't EVER say I'd hate you because that's stupid and not true."
"Oh, Mia. I'll tell you everything someday..."
And that sad day will come dear reader... But fast-forward five years and Mia is cast adrift, emotionally at least, on the spaceship Aktis. Well, I say spaceship, imagine a beautiful tropical fish with a huge caudal fin and vast wing-like pelvic fins, all dazzling of colour, twizzling friskily through the vacuum like a salmon desperate to get upstream for some fun and games and you should get the picture. I seriously think Tillie Walden should design spaceships. Perhaps someone can have a word with Elon Musk? She's also very good at naming them too...
This time(-period) around it's Mia's turn to be the newbie, joining a rag-tag crew assigned to renovating weird old buildings like abandoned churches that just happen to be merrily floating in space. They're an extremely tight bunch, yet over time, as she proves herself to be just as much of an oddball as the rest of them, Jules, Charlotte, Elliott and Alma welcome Mia into their little family of sorts. Indeed when she reveals her secret to them, she finds to her complete surprise they are more than amenable to help her with an epic quest of the heart... not least because of a couple of guilty secrets of their own...
Ahhh... so many secrets! I wish Tillie would let us into the one of how she keeps getting better and better! For this is, for me, her finest work yet. Not just in the storytelling, which will both melt and break your heart over and over, but also artistically. The trademark gentle, almost too delicate, linework, is still very much in evidence, but she's given her imagination full rein in terms of design and expression. This work brings together and incorporates all the different aspects of her pencilling we've seen so far, from the architectural grandiosity evident in THE END OF SUMMER to the quiet intimacy between characters that proved so moving in I LOVE THIS PART to the sudden flights of the fantastical that made A CITY INSIDE so compelling a read.
Here she seamlessly visually blends profound emotional drama and high concept fantasy with such ease that at differing times you could very easily forget this is both science fiction and romance. Because at one moment you'll be quietly observing star-crossed lovers looking intently into each other's eyes and the next simply marvelling at an intricately constructed landscape. So very cleverly done.
Colours-wise, I think this is also the most I have ever seen her use in a single work and the shifts back and forth between the few subtly different palettes is used to great effect, not least when Mia's quest takes her to the strange region of space known as The Staircase where there's a wondrously alien yet comfortingly animistic feel to the world we encounter. The textures and depths she manages to achieve with complimentary pale colours such as lilac, pastel blue, cornflower yellow and burnt ochre are spectacular.
I genuinely wonder how on earth, or indeed space, she can possibly top this work. I will wait with bated breath to find out. The brilliant thing about the prolific Miss Walden, though, is that I will probably only have to wait a few months! Which is a very good thing, because I don't believe I could hold my breath much longer than that...
Were the above exhortation of excellence not enough to entice you to purchase this work Tillie has also produced an exclusive Page 45 signed and numbered bookplate for us, available whilst stock last. Oh, and don't forget to read that afterword. It will truly make your heart melt one last time.
For more Tillie Walden, please see her autobiographical SPINNING which sheds new light on I LOVE THIS PART, and her recent contribution to I FEEL MACHINE.