The Race by Nina Allan book review

Nina Allan makes her sci-fi debut with The Race

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In a world that is similar to our own, debut author Nina Allan has changed a few details about the planet we know in order to create her own, easy-to-grasp concept.

In the town of Sapphire, outside of London yet seemingly cut off from the rest of the world by the Romney Marshes, our first of four narrators, Jenna, lives in a place where genetically engineered dogs – or smartdogs as they are called in the novel – race like greyhounds connected to their runners.

Essentially this appears to be the main ‘sci-fi’ element of Jenna’s part of the story, with the rest of her life revolving around her brother’s failed drug-running and the kidnapping of his daughter because he couldn’t keep up the payments. At one point he says to his sister, “I know what I’m doing,” and you have to question whether or not he does.

After spending the first third of the book with Jenna, the rest of the novel moves through the other three narrators. While Chrissy, Alex and Maree each have their own characters, their voices don’t appear to be all too distinct. They speak in a similar manner, and the structure remains the same, leaving you with that sense of maybe the book would have had a tighter grip on your interest had they been a little bit more varied.

Alongside this, at times, the story can clunk, as the author switches between exposition and jumping back into the characters pasts to set them up. It can sometimes be a little jarring, and if we’re being honest, sometimes learning about their pasts is far more interesting than their presents – especially when it comes to Jenna and her brother, the latter of who it is difficult to feel anything for, even after his daughter goes missing.

It’s a solid first effort from Allan, but any future outings could do with some structural tweaks.