Kassandra Sims,
Falling Upwards
(Tor, 2007)

Neva Jones is a Southern working girl who prefers Jeff Buckley, deep-fried chicken and dumplings, the sea at home and getting the most out of wherever her occasional business trips land her. Unfortunately, the most she can make of her trip to Wales in Falling Upwards is that she's going insane.

Since her return Neva's hearing things, seeing visions of her charismatic Welsh acquaintance March and generally behaving so strangely that her sister's ready to have her committed. Finally ready to get to the bottom of it all, Neva plunges into a world of giants, mythical characters, talking animals and of course the mysterious March. Now on an even more confusing quest, Neva finds herself with not only her sanity and an alien world, but also an exceedingly strange man to figure out before life can return to normal.

Unfortunately, readers will find even more to wonder about than Neva does in Kassandra Sims' second novel. While the paranormal aspect of Falling Upwards works well with Sims' disjointed writing style, only so many loose ends can be covered up by placing them in a less continuous world. For instance, the lack of consistency in Neva's mental prowess is enough to distract even from her rapidly changing situation. From forgetting certain key conversations in spite of remembering every trivial event surrending it to suddenly wondering whether March has visited a place in her quest long after it's been established that the man has gone through her entire journey many times before, Neva's sanity remains in question to the audience far longer than it should.

Moreover, in keeping with her heroine's inconsistency, Sims often gets so caught up in her imaginative plot that several elements are poorly dealt with. Many details greatly emphasized at the start of the book fade to nothing without explanation, while certain essential plot twists happen abruptly, backed by vague or unsatisfying reasoning. In place of a solid storyline and smooth delivery, Sims delivers random pieces of trivia via apparently random insertions that further disrupt the flow of her novel. (The fact that these FYIs are not always true does not improve matters.)

However, by far the most abrasive flaw in Falling Upwards lies in recurringly tangled phrasing. When the wording states that Neva found the journey to her room a relief, rather than her arrival there, that's a problem. When the heroine asks to have her hand released before she's supposed to remember that her hand is being held, it is inexcusable. All simple mistakes, easily fixed: the fact that they were allowed to remain in the finished work shows a shocking lack of editing.

The creativity on display in this novel is bright, the pacing is quick, and all in all Falling Upwards could have been a charmingly light read. All Sims needs is to focus on getting her story across rather than bogging herself down with irrelevant details, and any editor worth their salt should manage to take care of the rest.

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review by
Whitney Mallenby

5 June 2010

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