If you’ve read my review of Michael James’ The Hotel at the End of Time, you would know what a fan I am of it. It was a joy to read, from cover to cover. With Book 2 of The Hotel, The Well at the Bottom of Everything, releasing on 3 August, I was eager to get my hands on this sequel. Thankfully, the author has provided me with a copy so I can share my thoughts about this sequel in this advance review.
But The Well at the Bottom of Everything is a different tale. It’s a bigger tale (how big, exactly, is slowly revealed as the novel progresses). There’s more happening in Book 2, a larger canvas for James to play with. The question is whether it is as successful as the first part.
Upon opening the book, I was put at ease by those familiar sounding chapter titles. Oblique and mundane yet accurate and fun, these titles provide a wonderful introduction to the tone of the story, and had me chuckling along with them at the time, and again when reading the event the title referenced while reading the chapter. Some examples include “Vain orders a coffee,” “Flute enjoyed the original Matrix,” and “Emma demonstrates casual misandry.”
In my review of The Hotel at the End of Time, I mentioned how much I enjoyed its wit. Upon starting The Well at the Bottom of Everything’s first chapter, I was a little concerned about how this wit would play out. It is broader than I had become accustomed to in the first novel, and left me worrying that the humour will eclipse the book—while the original was decidedly funny at points, it was in aid of the characters and story, whereas, in this sequel, it was appearing as the humour would be the most prominent factor, with all the other elements in the book fitting around the jokes. While I’m not above pure comedy, and certainly enjoy it, one of the successful elements of The Hotel at the End of Time was how well it blended its distinct tones.
The opening chapter is cute. It features series protagonist Vain completely out of her element, on a date. It swiftly moves to the inciting incident, and the whole scene plays well. But it felt that if the entire book was written like this, it’s a little too cute, a little too funny, to be taken seriously. But a few chapters on, I was assured that the balance wasn’t shifting to pure comedy, and this is a wonderful thing. And once I finished the book, I could determine that yes, it is funny: a hilarious romp through disparate realities. Yes, the first book in the series is funny. But this second book is funnier, and it is funnier without sacrificing the story and characters.
Humour isn’t the only area where the author has improved on the original novel, however. The characters (which is where a lot of the novel’s humour is derived from) have also largely improved upon the original, or at least their characterisation. Given the broader cast in the book (or, more accurately, we see a lot more from a number of characters here than in the prequel), this is an impressive feat. Vain is still the main character, and what a character she is. Nobody gets her, her sense of humour, or even the way her brain works (well, almost nobody). She is more thoroughly realised than the prequel. Roman and Emma both appear less than they in book 1, thanks to the widening of the cast. Neither character feels like they are an excessive addition, and are delved into further. Many characters who were very minor presences in The Hotel at the End of Time have more substantial roles, and the book delves into them beautifully, presenting fully realised characters. And because I do my utmost to prevent spoiling the books I review, I’ll be deliberately vague: one scene-stealer who had a very minor role shows up again here (of sorts), in a great surprise.
In my review of the original, I touched upon the two major villains of the piece: Arthur and Trick. One minor concern I had with that book was that I didn’t get much of a sense of Arthur, who’s role in the original was limited. That’s not the case here in The Hotel at the End of Time. Arthur’s role has been built upon substantially, with us seeing him in action, learning about his backstory and motivations, and seeing how he engages with other characters. He is a great villain for the story. Trick, who was a highlight of the original is still a highlight in the sequel. Much like Arthur, we learn a lot more about him, and he is still the scene-stealer from the original. His story arc is wonderful, and I would happily read a prequel series about his adventures.
The prose in The Well at the Bottom of Everything is on-point throughout. The novel is well-edited, and the text moves nicely, from sentence to sentence, from scene to scene, and from chapter to chapter. It reads well and is completely engaging. The plot’s pacing is also excellent. I was impressed by how well paced The Hotel at the End of Time is, and I’m more impressed here. More happens in this book, with more characters throughout, and keeping the pace moving well is a bigger challenge. The author achieves the pacing brilliantly, resulting in a genuine page-turner.
It’s difficult to gauge the book’s length from Amazon’s listings. If you trust their current eBook length for the original, it is 373 “pages”; however when I wrote the review, it stated 276. The estimate for The Well at the Bottom of Everything is listed at 252 “pages,” resulting in something either slightly, or substantially, shorter. With the physical copies, Amazon states the original is 234 pages, compared to the sequel’s 157. If this is indeed accurate, The Well at the Bottom of Everything is substantially shorter. This seems bizarre: I read both books in three sittings, and the latter crammed more story in. Regardless of whether the sequel is shorter or not, it doesn’t feel shorter. And it doesn’t feel rushed, even with the extra beats.
As The Well at the Bottom of Everything is the second book in The Hotel series, I would suggest you read The Hotel at the End of Time first. If you’ve read it, then I have no hesitation in recommending you read the sequel. If you haven’t read it, I still have no hesitation in recommending you read the original, and then the sequel. The Well at the Bottom of Everything improves upon its original, and is a brilliant entry in The Hotel series. I look forward to what the author presents next time.
To call this a shit show would undersell the inherent qualities in both shit and shows. Drunk Wyatts, burnt out bulbs; this place was going to hell.The Well at the Bottom of Everything, Chapter 14: “Trick knows a lot about electricity.”
The Well at the Bottom of Everything was provided by the author for the purposes of an honest review.
The Well at the Bottom of Everything is available in paperback and eBook formats exclusively from Amazon.
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Note: I do not post scores on reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews:
- Amazon – To be posted upon release