When you control the fate of others, who is in control of yours?
One of the things I love about indie books is that they often defy traditional classification. Sure, categories can help us find what we are looking for, but what if we don’t know what we are looking for until we find it? Some stories just beg to be told, no matter what genre we might later decide they should sit in.
Almost Surely is a book that breaks the genre mould. It has elements of time travel, sci-fi and low fantasy, but it feels very much like an old noir film in its styling. The way the scenes are framed, the locations, and the jazz soundtrack all add to this. There’s also a charming Murakami-like focus on the animals in the background of scenes that really brings the whole thing to life.
But onto the story. Here Jefferson has created a wonderful mythology, which I bought into from the very first page. The opening to the book introduces four Heralds, located somewhere apparently outside of our usual realms of space and time. There’s Gift, the authority that governs karma, Collector, who takes care of death, Love, and Watcher, the blind embodiment of fate. While all of these exist, looming in the background of the book, the story follows Anthony Hopper: an Agent of Influence who directs the lives of those selected by Watcher.
From the back cover:
Jack and Henry, twins, are the latest additions to the agency, and it is Anthony’s task to train them. When one abuses his knowledge of the future, Anthony discovers that Watcher is not as faultless as he believed and that those closest to him, including his soul-collecting confidante, Edith, may be conspiring against him.
The characters Jefferson creates are well-rounded and realistic. For example, we get to see how Anthony’s mannerisms alter when he’s with people he respects, compared with when he’s acting as a teacher or when he’s alone. We get to see him both confident and vulnerable, and by the time the plot culminates, it feels as though he’s a friend. That’s perhaps one reason why it had me feeling emotional on his behalf on more than one occasion, and why I shared his frustration as he tried to unravel the scraps of information he was given about his destiny.
The cameos of personnel from other agencies is wonderful, too. They really help to paint a picture of the book’s world as a whole, including the parts we don’t get to see much of. Then there’s the introduction of a group of carnival folk, who bring their own spin on events. I would love to see any of these side characters as a focus of their own story; there’s so much on the peripheries with potential to be unpacked. Who knows, maybe that was Jefferson’s intention…
Almost Surely is well-paced throughout. The action flows along, tempting the reader with clues only to confirm or surprise our suspicions within a short time frame and introduce more new aspects to consider. Meanwhile, something is changing inside of Anthony. While he is caught up in the fate of others, his own is forming, and the way that unfolds is controlled with great skill. It left me contemplating the nature of free will, and whether it’s of vital importance to our happiness. It was a pleasant surprise to see an element of quantum physics creeping in here, too, just when I’d got comfortable with the existence of metaphysical beings!
It’s difficult to say much more about Almost Surely without giving spoilers. It’s a well-crafted story, especially considering it’s a debut novel, and it ticks all the boxes for me in terms of entertainment, originality and thought-provoking content. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy. And you can do that very thing right here.
Gavin Jefferson also has a published novella called The Surrogate: a body-positivity story set in a future world. You can read my review of this from earlier in the year here.