For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob – a young lawyer with an utterly normal life – hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other.
But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world, and for once, it isn’t Charley’s doing. There’s someone else out there who shares his powers and it’s up to Charley and a reluctant Rob to stop them – before anyone gets to The End.
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is, without a doubt, a book lover’s book. It’s populated with many familiar characters with the likes of Sherlock Holmes, the Artful Dodger, and no fewer than five Mr Darcys making an appearance amongst many others. While each character stays true to their origins, these aren’t just carbon copies. Rather, the one that brings them to life them adds some of their own interpretation to each, resulting in slightly different flavours of each. I was a little concerned that some of the references within the novel would go over my head, particularly as I’ve not read any Dickens other than A Christmas Carol, but I didn’t find this to be an issue at all. The characters selected are incredibly well known, so much so that you’re likely to have a reasonable grasp of their personality and motivations even without having read the novels that they’re from.
As well as being a novel about the magic of books and reading, this is also a novel about the relationship between brothers. I loved the interactions between Charley and Rob which I thought were pitched perfectly. Rob is four years older than Charley and feels a need to protect his younger brother despite them now both being adults. Even though it’s a self-assigned role, there is also some resentment on Rob’s part, as he feels that Charley will always turn to him at the first hint of trouble. He’s never refused, but his exasperation is clear, and I thought that Parry accurately captured the potent combination of sibling rivalry and competition, the resentment, but also the overwhelming love between them. Theirs is an incredibly complex relationship, and I loved seeing this explored throughout the novel.
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is told mostly from Rob’s perspective, with the occasional chapter from other points of view and excerpts from Charley’s diaries. This works well as Charley – child prodigy and Dickensian scholar – can explain his ideas to Rob who has little knowledge of literature, thereby also giving the reader any snippets of pertinent information that are needed without it coming across as an explanation of what’s happening. And it’s so exciting! There are mysteries to solve, surprising friendships developed, a few good twists, and plenty of hairy moments to keep the reader turning the pages. It’s a novel that kept me gripped throughout, and one that I found thoroughly entertaining as well as a delightful exploration of the joy of reading.
I really enjoyed The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep. It touches upon a similar concept to Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, but I thought that the execution was quite different, although if you enjoyed those novels and the ideas behind them, you’re likely to enjoy this one too. Recommended for book lovers!