The SPR Awards 2014 Best Fiction winner Bloom, Or, the Unwritten Memoir of Tennyson Middlebrook by Martin Kee reviewed by co-founder Cate Baum.
When Bloom hit our judges it stood out immediately. When you open the first pages of Bloom it’s a tantalizing mystery.
From General Knowledge Extraction Subject: Name
Estimated Age: —
Godstem Fragment: 5547896-33398b by 33388452d
Bloom – See Science and Nature):
1. (Science and Nature) One or more flowers on a
2. (Science and Nature) Algal blo0m – A rapid
increase in the population of microscopic algae or
phytoplankton in an aquatic system – $ee harmful agal
bloom, diatoms, flagellate protists – A^^so See
Pages of fragmented data open out into a scene. A young Tennyson Middlebrook and his friend Allison start to try to save baby toads from certain death on a local road outside their trailer park when they come across a dead body. That body is infected with Bloom, a terrifying fungus that causes the victim to die a horribly violent death.
Tennyson is a storyteller. He tells Allison a story of Lil’it, a captive winged princess known as Feh, in a Games of Thrones style world where all mutants are enslaved and eaten. But Lil’it is ready to fight back.
She bites him, hard. Her teeth appear human from the front, wide and square, but are thin and razor sharp at the edge. They are designed to scrape and slice sideways with tiny serrations. She comes away with a small sliver of skin and the taste of coppery blood in her mouth. Pyrie jerks his hand away, “Shit!”
Lil’it smiles, rolling the matter along her tongue, closing her eyes in ecstasy as the proteins that make up the man travel along her tastebuds revealing secrets, stories, twined narratives of DNA, opening up his body to her like a blueprint to an architect. She sees tumors waiting to erupt, hidden triggers that—when activated—could cause a hemorrhage, kidney failure, or even a heart attack.
“Fucker bit me!” he says, examining the small bite just between his thumb and forefinger.
The helmsman laughs. “That’s what you get. Feh. I reckon she’d eat your soul if you could butter it.”
Written in a style something like George R.R. Martin meets Jeff Noon with a little Anne Rice, Bloom stands out as a hybrid fantasy sci-fi tale – complete with a little touch of apocalypse. This, thank the gods, isn’t a YA book (although older teens will love it): it’s much more gritty and exciting than that. Which is what everyone needed. A really grown-up fantasy read. Adults basking in the slim pickings of YA books to quell the huge fantasy appetite left by the flavor of Martin and Noon will find something really tasty here. Poetic, funny, dark and exciting, Kee is set for a great career in this mashup genre he’s carving for himself.
Our protagonist Tennyson Middlebrook (despite his Tolkien-style name) is a real boy in a real world, with real issues. His father is mean and abusive and doesn’t care for his son’s interest in becoming a writer. But when Allison becomes sick with Scribbler’s Disease and can’t stop writing, and Bloom starts infecting the world by feeding on information, that life becomes dangerous – in both Lil’it’s world and Tennyson’s.
With a beautiful cover and a solid format, and editing well-handled, this book is also a good example of how professional a self-published book can be. Given the style of the writing, with odd words and DNA strings spelt out, the work is very successful in showing how well an unusual piece can work if given the attention it deserves. Kee cleverly used beta readers on Goodreads to catch errors, and it really paid off for him given the real finish this writing has. Self-published work should always be like this, and that is why we awarded our Best Fiction prize to Martin Kee.
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