The Visitors by Owen W Knight
Burton Mayers, pb, £7.20
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Fourteen years ago, Peter and his sister Emily saved the world from destruction through a shadowy organisation called the Sect, with agents in world government called the Masters. Now they might have to do it again, this time from aliens who have landed near the Sect’s main base, Templewood. On the surface, the visitors appear benign, gifting new technologies to help the Earth survive the damage humans are doing to it without asking for anything in return. But their altruism is suspicious, especially when people in Templewood and other Master owned sites go missing. Can Peter and Emily uncover what is happening before the Visitors take more people?
The Visitors is a follow-on from The Invisible College Trilogy, returning to the location Templewood in what appears, from the ending, to be the start of a new series. I haven’t read the trilogy, but The Visitors does contain some information about what happened fourteen years previously. The Sect had a prophecy that a child would come to them with information that would unlock the codes in their sacred texts and help them take over the world. Peter was thought to be that child. When he discovered the Sect was planning on hiding in a bunker while an asteroid hit the Earth, only resurfacing when the situation was perfect for them to take over the world, he worked against them with a group of other young people, including Emily. Fourteen years later, Peter is still with the Sect, hoping to prevent the Templewood Summer from happening again, and because of the Visitors, he reaches out to his sister and two other women who are connected to the Sect without knowing it, as independent eyes to help him see what he is missing.
The writing style is quite unique. Rather than blending prose and dialogue, Knight keeps them separate. I’m not sure whether this is by design or accident, but it kept me detached from the characters. The prose borders on info-dumps, and I found the dialogue very problematic. The conversations contain limited directions to place you in the moment with the characters, such as appearance, interactions with their location, or inner emotions. There also isn’t a lot of non-Visitor-related conversation. Sometimes, I lost track of who was talking and had to reread sections which was made harder because I felt the characters were all similar sounding. I could have overlooked it from the Templewood people as they have lived their whole lives in that one area, cut off from the rest of the world and therefore keeping their language stilted. But I first noticed it while meeting the outsiders Peter wanted to bring into Templewood. The Visitors is an example of telling rather than showing.
As I have mentioned, the dialogue is quite lengthy and focuses primarily on debates between characters about using technology to fix climate change issues, such as tiny drones acting in place of bees, developing new strains of plants suitable for harsher climates, or the existence of aliens on Earth using religious or mythical texts like The Bible or Egyptian mythology. So, I read the book like a text examining the different sides of the discussion and got more from it. We might have all the planet-saving technology imaginable, but when you add humans to the mix, our personal motivations and drivers get in the way.
While I appreciated the work that had gone into reflecting how different people react in certain situations and creating technological solutions for our climate situation, I don’t feel this series is for me. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the story more had I read the trilogy first. However, I suspect that if you have read The Invisible College Trilogy, and liked it, you won’t be disappointed with The Visitors.