Book Review: The Prisoner by Robert S. Malan and John Cockshaw

“Malan delivers an enthralling story exploring some of the more burning questions of human nature.”

The second collaboration between Malan and Cockshaw in their A Darkness in Mind series (the first, Quest & The Sign Of The Shining Beast, was published in 2016 also by Luna Press Publishing), The Prisoner tells the story of prison guard John Andras who comes to the attention of mysterious new warden, Elliot Danvers, when he intervenes on the behalf of a prisoner who is beaten by three other guards. The warden is impressed by Andras’ almost supernatural ability to defuse the situation and calm the prisoner, almost as if he willed it with his mind. Danvers makes the miserable Andras an offer the guard cannot refuse; help get information out of mysterious prisoner “Seth” in return for promotion and a transfer away from the stifling environment of Morningstar prison.

What follows are brief conversations between prisoner and guard, delving into the purpose of our continued existence and whether there really is any point to life at all. Seth seems to lead Andras down meandering paths that the guard at first assumes are distractions to keep him from locating the mysterious “key” the warden seeks, but actually drives Andras on a journey towards self-awareness. In between these thoughtful conversations, Malan offers us a small insight into the nature of the guard through interactions with friend and head of security, Freddie, and, more importantly, his relationship with his wife, Madeline. Malan shows a stagnant marriage through their very short encounters, usually for a couple of minutes in the morning before she leaves for work and a couple of minutes when Andras returns from a shift before collapsing into sleep.

The evocative and mesmerising artwork provided by Cockshaw perfectly accompanies Malan’s poetic prose during the depictions of Andras’ enigmatic dreams. Sometimes they tend to expand on the spiritual nature of the discussions between Andras and Seth, or Andras and the warden, the previous day. Sometimes they seem quite mysterious at the time of reading. But they foreshadow what is to come later in the book as Andras is driven to the very edge of madness by the exhausting soul-searching and the pressure put upon him by the warden and his henchmen. The reader, too, will feel as though they have been through an emotional wringer by the time they reach the climax.

As captivating as the story is, and as good as the interaction is between each of the characters, the individuals could have been explored in greater depth. While the reader will feel a connection with Andras as we see all of the action from his point of view and sympathise with him, the other characters don’t feel quite as real. Perhaps if we had seen some of the story from the viewpoints of the supporting cast, whether Freddie or Madeline or even the sinister warden (although maybe that last was kept in the darkness to better convey his shadowy nature), we would have felt that much more immersed in the story. Of course, this being the second book in the series, perhaps this “Darkness in Mind” is covered in more detail in book one and the reader would gain a greater understanding if the books were read in order.

Overall, Malan delivers an enthralling story exploring some of the more burning questions of human nature. The dialogue between his characters is intriguing and entertaining, while the descriptive language he employs, especially during Andras’ “dream sequences”, is often mesmerising, even more so when it is combined with Cockshaw’s artwork. While delivering a thoughtful and entertaining tale, Malan doesn’t spoon-feed the reader and there is much still left in darkness for the reader to interpret for themselves. And maybe just enough to suggest we should start from book one and become totally lost to the darkness in mind.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Luna Press Publishing
Paperback: 132(pps)
Release Date: 9 March 2018

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