The Oversight is the first foray by acclaimed children’s author Charlie Fletcher, of Stoneheart trilogy fame, into the adult market. The book follows the exploits of the titular Oversight of London, a once large and proud organisation whose numbers have since dwindled to dangerous levels.
The Oversight are tasked with defending the mortal world from the supernatural; basically the Scooby gang meets the Victorian Men in Black. Now the first thing worth stating about the book is that it isn’t a standalone novel, having clearly been written as the first in a series, and as such it’s difficult to gauge the relative merits of its story, because it’s really only just getting started at the book’s close. In many ways the book is even less of a standalone novel than the first book of Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings, because it reaches no real conclusion whatsoever. Instead it essentially functions as a 400 page prologue teasing you with hints of what’s to come.
The Oversight clouds itself in mystery, like the organisation itself. One character manages to be the focus of three chapters with not so much as a whiff of her motivations or even her name being revealed. Of course, none of this is necessarily a bad thing. If we take the book as just an introduction to Fletcher’s latest mythos then we must consider it a remarkable success, whereby I was left intrigued and excited about the prospect of more from the series.
The world of The Oversight is a rare thing indeed, a well thought-out and unique new player in the fantasy genre, which has so long suffered under the weight of cliché and unoriginality. The supernatural baddies in the novels are markedly different from the goblins and ghoulies you’ve seen a thousand times before, and for that alone Fletcher can be particularly commended.
Having said that, Fletcher seems to have had some teething problems in the transition from children’s to adult fiction. At times the general feel of the book is very young adult, which is not aided by a lot of the characters being strangely elevated and cartoonish for a book claiming to be both Gothic and grown up. For example, one of the members of The Oversight is an overweight, matriarchal cook called, well, Cook, who used to be a pirate, and a genuine, cutlass wielding “arr me hearties” one at that. The villains are all moustache twirling panto villains with names like Magor, Zebulon Templebane and my personal favourite; Francis Blackdyke, Viscount Mountfellon, who might as well have just been called Lord Dastardly McBastard IV. They’re all good characters, rich and interesting and the rest of it, but they certainly add a level of comic book camp to a novel which seemed to have ambitions to be a touch darker then it perhaps came off.
At times then you can feel like Fletcher is a touch confused about what he wants The Oversight to be, but as the first book in the series such an issue is to be expected. Ultimately, he could well be onto a winner here, giving us a new fantasy series with clear plans for a grand narrative, with a world which sets itself apart from the legions of cheap rehashes of Potter, Rings or dare I even say it, Twilight.