There’s a fine balance in stories with mysterious twists, which question the supernatural and have stings in their tails. This balance is between maintaining a feeling of suspense for the reader, and making the mystery so unfathomable that it’s difficult to grasp what’s going on.
In my opinion, Adamtine swings too far towards unfathomable. It does a superb job of creating a deeply unsettling horror story around a commuter train, stuck between towns in the dead of night. But it also ties in a complex sub-plot, linking the characters in a mysterious set of disappearances that have never been resolved.
The main core of the story is set on the train, as the three protagonists try and work out what’s going on. The creepy sense of foreboding intensifies as the book moves forwards, with the stuck train seemingly playing tricks with time and space.
As this is going on we’re regularly pulled out of the horror story and into flashback. As an exercise in character development, this would work better if Berry’s illustrative style provided more definition between the characters. There were occasions when we were flicking back through the book to check hairstyles or the shape of someone’s nose, to work out whether a character was someone that we’ve seen before. There’s an assumption of understanding that I wasn’t entirely in tune with.
I have read this book twice now, because I didn’t get enough from my first reading to understand what was going on. After a second reading I understand more and feel like I have a basic grasp, but either I’m still missing nuances of what’s happening or the book is designed to be wilfully obscure. I could read it a third time, but I’m just not sure it’s worth the effort.
Either way I’m ultimately disappointed. As a creeping horror, the book would work equally well without the complex back story, and might even be improved. Alternatively, the thriller element built up in the back story might have been improved with more space. Either way, what we’re left with here is just too confusing for my poor brain to handle. Accept it as a challenge if you wish, but I think it would be vastly improved if I didn’t have quite so many unanswered questions left over at the end.