Rating – 4/5
I received the ARC for this debut novel from the author Matejs Kalns himself. And this review is a long time coming. The story revolves around the disturbing theme of modern-day slave trade and child sex-trafficking and it’s a testament to the author’s skill that, he made everything so tangible that it was difficult to get through some parts of the book and consequently difficult to choose to write about it, even in a review.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The story follows Quinton Mills, who is scrambling to find a little Cambodian girl Mei, after she vanishes from the shelter one night. Quinton and Mei’s paths cross years ago in Cambodia when he helps rescue and places her in an orphanage/shelter. He forms a strong bond with the girl and despite being miles apart, they remain close and in correspondence with each other. So when Mei goes missing, he fears the worst, that she has been kidnapped by Human Traffickers and consequently decides to find her on his own. He sets off on a journey that takes him from the jungles of Cambodia to the seedy lanes of Thailand and politically corrupt landscape of Egypt.
I really enjoyed this book, like I said before it was really tangible and to read about human trafficking from the eyes of the protagonist wasn’t an easy thing to do. You could feel the hopelessness and disillusionment that plagued him. Despite the subject matter, the author did a great job in tackling this topic and turned it into a fast-paced, race against time thriller. I was there throughout the ride, right alongside Quinton as he came across a whole gamut of characters along his journey, some that helped him and others that deterred him in his search for Mei.
The bond between Mei and Quinton was palpable and even though we don’t spend a lot of time with Mei, her character is fully fleshed out, you will fall in love with her tenacity. You will root for Quinton and Mei’s friendship that has such strong paternal overtones and flip through the pages fast to discover their fate. As for Quinton, he was exceptionally well written with a lot of inner dialogue that helped explain his motivations and actions, there were times when I wanted to reach into the pages and shake him, to snap him out of his at-times pessimistic and wholly disillusioned stupor.
This was an extremely engaging read and the writing was rich and descriptive, the places described leapt out of the pages and had me craving for travel in these pandemic times.
All in all, I will definitely recommend this book but be warned there will be times when you just want to keep the book aside and shut your mind to the horrific world of child sex trafficking. An absolutely stellar debut, I can’t wait to read more from Kalns.