Monday, 20 June 2011

Review: The Opposite of Amber - Gillian Philip

Published: April 11th 2011, Bloomsbury
Pages: 311 pages, ARC
Series?: Standalone
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): 'They found the fifth girl right after the snow melted ...the place where he left her was winter water, crazed with ice-feathers and dusted with snow. The traces from her body were gone, the ones that said his name, but she had an extra skin of ice that protected her and she looked perfect, like Snow White'.

Ruby and her older sister Jinn live together on their own, just about making ends meet. Jinn is beautiful, with glittering blonde hair, and makes it her business to look after Ruby. They are horrified by, but try to ignore, the local newspaper stories of prostitutes who are murdered, their bodies eventually discovered underwater. Then the no-good Nathan Baird turns up on the scene - again - and Jinn starts to change.

First Nathan moves in with Jinn and Ruby, making Ruby feel an outsider, and then Jinn and Nathan move out, leaving Ruby alone. Jinn no longer has time to look after Ruby. And it seems to Ruby that Jinn herself needs looking after. Her beautiful glittering hair starts to lose its shine. And then Jinn disappears.

My review: The Opposite of Amber is one interesting book. I thought I knew what it was about and what I was going to get (a Jack the Ripper-style murder mystery set in London) but I got a real shock. Firstly - yeah, I had the location allllll wrong. What I thought was a story set in our country's capital turned out to be set in a little village in Scotland. And the muder mystery element? Not as important as I thought. Instead, we focus primarily on the relationship between Ruby and Jinn, two sisters who have experienced more than their fair share of hardships.

Ruby, the younger, is our narrator and her voice is fantastic. She's hilarious, witty and sharp - my kind of heroine. She comes out with some great pieces of dialogue that made me laugh out loud, despite the dark tones of the story. For example, this little gem taken from page 115:

'"Yeah, I saw the pair of you sniggering. You gave away my necklace for a joke!"
"So what? YOU DIDN'T WANT IT!"
At which point I stormed off and got drunk.

I had a wonderful time. The combination of first being happy, and then being insanely, irrationally furious: that's what did it, I think. I actually talked, and talked a lot. I'd discovered the angel alcohol and it was good, it was the salvation of me, it taught me to speak and not just that: to make jokes. God, I was funny. I was witty like you wouldn't believe (I wish I could remember some of my lines). I didn't hesitate to say things and my tongue was not coated in Velcro, it was smooth and slippery and quick like a cobra.'

Brilliant. It was Ruby who really stole the show for me and just about saved the story. I did love Philip's gorgeous prose and the sense of foreboding whenever Nathan entered the scene (I did get the sense of pantomime booing whenever he was present) but there was something about Jinn's character that I couldn't quite connect to and that let the book down a little, for me anyway.

Don't get me wrong, I loved The Opposite of Amber and wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to any fans of YA (plus, no vampires or werewolves - hooray). I just wish Jinn's character felt as well developed as her sister's. She didn't feel particularly real to me and so I had a hard time caring about what happened to her. The only reason I did care is because of how Ruby reacted to her disappearance.

For me, The Opposite of Amber isn't perfect but it's a solid book and definitely an interesting story. Fans of snappy dialogue will love Ruby (as I did) and there are some beautiful lines of prose to be found here.

First line: 'They found the fifth girl right after the snow melted.'

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 15/20 (B)


  1. have me very intrigued. I agree that the synopsis is a little misleading if the murder mystery doesn't take up more of the plot. Sounds like a really interesting read!

  2. I've heard this one is slightly surprising - I'd have thought it'd be more about the murder and less about the characterisation. Something about it makes me a little intrigued..


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