Sour Fruit by Eli Allison – review

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I’m very happy to review Sour Fruit the debut novel by fellow Unbound author Eli Allison.

Here is the blurb:

Onion is snatched. Which is proper shit because she still had nearly twenty quid left on her Angry Slut Teen Clothing gift card and now she was never going to get those flamingo-pink leather chaps she’d been eyeing up. She wakes up chained to an armpit of a river city, earmarked for a skin-trader called The Toymaker. Surrounded by a creeping rot she has just three days to escape before the sold sticker becomes a brand.

Forced into a knife fight with a world that has just pulled an AK47 on her, all Onion has to fight with is; a sewer for a mouth, a rusted up moral compass and a spanking anger that can sucker-punch kindness at twenty paces. She might survive but probably not.

Sour Fruit is a dark dystopian novel set in northern Britain, in a river city called Kingston; a rotting scrap yard of misery. The VOIDs are forced to live there not by walls or fences but by being invisible in the new digital world.

The novel explores ideas about what is home, how friendship can come from strange places and the debts we can’t ever pay back.

The overall feel of Sour Fruit is dark, crazy, wildly imaginative. The world is described in baffling snatched as the protagonist, Onion, tries to unravel the fast-paced events that keep happening to her in a dizzying rush. Onion had to first unravel the strangeness of the situation she finds herself in, and then begin to make her way through it, out of the danger, back into control of her own destiny. It is a quest. 

There is plenty of action. Full on and pacy. It’s exciting, and it’s funny. It’s a visual book, and, like a mad cabaret, it is fabulously enjoyable seeing it all unroll, leering and winking and limping and scowling and flirting before us, as we, dear reader, sit with our mouths open, gasping for breath.

Sour Fruit is set in a harsh future when the rights of people can be digitally removed, making them Voids. Onion, after she is snatched from a gobby but essentially reasonable life, comes to be in this unenviable position, imprisoned in a black dungeon in Kingston where the rest of the Voids make their home. She finds herself on the wrong side of local big-wig and crime boss, and is forced into a death-race against time to try to escape a truly horrible fate. There seems to be no way to achieve this, but she finds, eventually, some precious allies and this at least helps the fight last. So much happens and it is a gripping story. The very best thing you could do is to pick it up and get as happily lost in it as I did.  

The list of characters she has to badmouth, beat up, evade, get beaten up by, chase, find or badmouth again is carnivalesque – they are grand, dark and, sometimes, almost human. The adventure never stops and the imaginative world keeps unrolling. It is a world that, for all of its vicious dangers, has a human heart, beating somewhere deep inside. There is care and connections between the denizens, there is a coherence to the carnival. New rituals are realised and they bloom lushly from the darkness.  

It is a fabulous ride in a funfair that is thrilling, scary and not necessarily that much fun for the protagonists – but it definitely is for us, the reader. It is very funny and well written and a gripping and enjoyable read. Highly recommended

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