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Fall Hard

Fall Hard - J.L. Merrow

I’ll preface this by saying that Merrow has written some of my favorite books (Muscling Through, Pressure Head) but Fall Hard didn’t work for me.

The story idea is interesting--MC Paul survived a fall off a waterfall in Iceland, but loses his memory of the year prior, meaning all his memories of his time in Iceland, including those related to his boyfriend Sven (who died in the same fall.) Now Paul has returned from recovering in England to his post-doc studies, but he is plagued by uncertainty. Who was he before? Who was Sven? Who is this attractive riverboat driver who seems eerily familiar? And of course, the mystery of how the fall happened.

The set-up was great. I was ready for a taut mystery about Paul figuring things out, and realizing that he didn’t know who to trust since not everyone was being forthright about their relationship with him from before the fall.

What affected things for me was the pacing (slow, and sometime repetitive) and an overall disconnect with Paul. Paul doesn’t really know himself, so a lot of the book is him trying to figure things out, but just as he felt very disconnected, so did I, and I had a hard time marshaling feelings of caring for how things turned out for him. And he would get into these patterns a lot with other characters--ask questions, someone gives him an answer, he feels more confused, he gets irritable, etc. (This happens on repeat with his colleague Mags, who is very nice albeit a bit oblivious.) Paul is understandably confused and irritated about his amnesia, but at times he felt like a very snappish character, and I started thinking that he must be very good-looking for everyone to be so into him because his personality is not very winning.)

The disconnect was a drag, and the pacing was also a drag, and I had to really push through the first half. Around 60-65%, there is some added tension, I started to get excited about things coming together, but Paul’s responses are often, “Regain broken memory or come to a realization, freak out, run away, ponder about oneself and others” so the running away and pondering usually returned things back to a slower pace, so the tension never kept up.

And by the time the realization hits, I felt ho-hum about it. Like, “Oh, okay. That’s what happened.” I kind of wish there was something a little more tense, but oh well.

What I did like: Merrow did a great job on the character’s voices. They all seemed very distinct, especially Viggo’s, the riverboat driver. I loved his easy-going nature. I like Mags as well, but she (and her sad history that Paul doesn’t remember) seemed really throwaway by the time I got to the end. Like, once it came up, I thought it would have a more important part of the story, but it doesn’t really.

I also loved the setting in Iceland, and Merrow did a great job of describing everything and giving the book a very strong sense of place. It’s also just an interesting setting, and I really enjoyed the details of Paul exploring. (I did feel that some of the history and saga lessons could have been culled down, since I felt it slowed the pacing more, and wasn’t always relevant to the story, outside of “Icelandic history is cool.”)

So, I was disappointed in this one--I’m not sure what could have improved it outside of reworking it to heighten the pacing, tension, and somehow make Paul more present and appealing. (He is a way less readable MC compared to the effervescent charm of Tom in Merrow’s Pressure Head. They’re different characters, but I started to really miss Tom’s voice while reading this.)

I wouldn’t let my review stop you though, especially if you like Merrow’s works. I recommend going in and making up your own mind. For others, this story really worked for them, and it could work for you too. It just didn’t work for me.