the Little Red Reviewer

Gleam by Tom Fletcher

Posted on: October 18, 2014

gleam tom fletcherGleam, by Tom Fletcher

UK Publish date: Sept 4 2014

US Publish date: March 5 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Jo Fletcher books!)










In the center of a never ending plain of machinery, abandoned factories, destroyed buildings, swamps, snails, and desperation lies the Pyramid.  And within the Pyramid lies civilization.  Alan grew up in the Pyramid, but he wasn’t born there.  He still burns with the pain and hatred of watching Pyramidders kill his family and destroy the village in which they lived.  His life was spared that day, and he was taken to live in the Pyramid, to be educated and trained, and eventually take up a station, to get married, and to have a child of his own.  But Alan never forgot what happened to him.  Forced to watch his son be indoctrinated into the beliefs of the Pyramid, Alan begins to educate the boy on what life is really like outside, out in the discard.  But the Pyramid will not suffer opinions and beliefs other than their own, Alan’s family is terrorized and he is banished, to survive if he can, back in the discard.


At a breakneck pace, Tom Fletcher zips us through Alan’s failing marriage and the challenges of being married to a born Pyramidder, and how he’ll do anything to see his son once he’s been kicked out of the Pyramid. He bribes guards with drugs and information, and hopes one day to rescue his son and wife from the lies and brainwashing of the Pyramid. But rescue them to what?  He knows his wife wouldn’t want to life in the Discard, no matter how safe parts of it is, so what is he rescuing them from, and where would he take them if he was successful?

After a very rushed intro, the plot jumps ahead four years, giving Gleam the feeling of a second book in a series, rather than the first.   Since his banishment four years ago, Alan has been using his skills as a musician to gain a place in The House of A Thousand Hollows, which is half safehouse, half estate, half boarding house. He knows he needs a particular type of powerfully hallucinogenic mushroom as a bribe for the Pyramid guards, and when he bungles stealing them, he’s suddenly top of the Mushroom Queen’s  most-wanted-dead-or-alive list.  Luckily, his new friend Churr has a plan.  She knows where the mushrooms grow, and she knows a mapmaker who can get them there. With nothing to lose, Alan convinces a few of his friends to join their little party, and off they go, into the wilderness of the Discard.


At this point, the story gets fairly episodic, with the party fighting their way through this monster or that group of bandits, while Alan is haunted by the ghostly cries of a baby. Honestly, the middle of the book just wasn’t very interesting to me.  Bloody Nora, the mapmaker, caught my attention the most, and she doesn’t get much page time. When do I get to read *her* story??


The Discard, the area away from the Pyramid is by far the coolest part of this book.  No one really knows how it came to be, other than it seems to be buildings and concrete and factory parts and industrial refuse that seems to go on forever.  Nora and her fellow mapmakers have their theories, but the environs change too quickly for them to prove or disprove anything.  The humans who call the place home have built onto the existing buildings, creating walkways and alleys, safehouses and taverns. It’s a rough life, living in the Discard. There doesn’t seem to be much farming or herding in Gleam or the Discard, but everyone seems to have plenty of drugs and alcohol, which struck me as incongruous.


It’s really too bad this story was told from it’s least interesting character, because Alan was the biggest thing that kept me from enjoying Gleam.  The more time I spent with Alan, the less I liked him. I understand what he’s doing and why it’s important to him, but I found him completely unlikeable. He doesn’t think ahead, didn’t have an interesting personality, and simply wasn’t much fun to read about. Unlikeable characters have proven very popular lately, the antiheroes who are never actually heroes, people who do horrible things and get the reader to sympathize with them. It’s an art, building a sympathetic unlikeable character. I never sympathized with Alan. I never cared what happened to him, his quest, or his family.


Once we get through the rather episodic middle sections, the end of the book does get much more interesting.  So if you slog through the middle, you are at least rewarded with something cool.  Gleam can stand on it’s own as a stand alone, but there are plenty of loose ends and unanswered questions that I’m sure will be touched on in future installments of this series.  Why does the Pyramid bleed it’s inhabitants, and what does it do with the blood? What’s the origin of the Discard?  Why did Nora’s family shun her?
A lot of readers are enjoying Gleam, and more power to them. Unfortunately, this one just didn’t work for me.


8 Responses to "Gleam by Tom Fletcher"

“He knows he needs a particular type of powerfully hallucinogenic mushroom as a bribe for the Pyramid guards, and when he bungles stealing them, he’s suddenly top of the Mushroom Queen’s most-wanted-dead-or-alive list.” This is when it started sounding like a Led Zeppelin song.


This seems to be one of those books that I haven’t really picked up on my radar (but, you know, living under a rock, etc). It’s a shame it didn’t work for you though – I hate being disappointed in a book!
Lynn 😀


Hmmm. I guess I’ll stick to my plan of reading Gormenghast first before getting this, after all.


I liked it despite almost giving up on it in the first ten percent. But once I wrapped my head around the ‘protagonist’ being a complete tool I was able to get into it a bit more.


it took me a couple of tries to get into too. Would read the first 50 pages, put it down, come back to it 2 weeks later, read the first 50 pages, put it down. Third time was the charm, or I’m stubborn.


Now I’m probably going to have to read it what with the ‘protagonist being a complete tool’ an all!
Lynn 😀


I agree with Nathan that the beginning was the hardest part to get through. I ended up really enjoying the world of this book though, I was very impressed with the world building.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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