Lead Review

  • Book: The Sunlight Race
  • Location: Zanzibar
  • Author: Tom Kernot

Review Author: Tina Hartas



We like to try and support indie writers by reading their books when we can and I was particularly taken with the notion that The Sunlight Race is set on Zanzibar. I had a wonderful family holiday just a couple of years ago on the island after visiting Tanzania and, given our Covid times, reading a novel set on the island seems like the only way to be able to revisit Zanzibar for now.

The story: Ben Carter, a keen cyclist, runs a coffee shop called Spokes, in London, together with his longterm friend Naomi. He is recovering from the death of his partner Lucy, who was blown up in a seemingly random bicycle bombing – some nut had targeted cyclists.

Ben has always been up for a challenge, so the crew at his place of work nominate him to take part in The Sunlight Race. Randomly paired couples have a day to carry out a number of tasks and activities (like diving with sharks, filming monkeys, paddle boarding to a finish line in the mangroves) and this time the popular TV programme is set on Zanzibar. The competitors are flown into Dar and from there they have to make their way around the appointed venues, solely using an allowance provided by the film company – plane, taxi, you name it. They have to negotiate their own itinerary and complete the tasks using their skill and judgement. After each task, the last couple to finish is knocked out and thus the competitors are whittled down. However, there is evil at work and Ben is literally going to be fighting for his life with his Sunlight companion, Anna from Reading.

Meanwhile we know that Michael Finlay, otherwise known as The Conductor (because he likes classical music) is behind the terrorist attack in London and is following one competitor in particular. You learn he is a nasty guy with an ugly chip on his shoulder because he was undermined and abused by his father, and recently he publicly failed a conducting competition, aired on TV, which has compounded his treacherous view of the world and the people in it. The ultimate humiliation has forced his hand. Why did he target Lucy and why, indeed, is he flying out to Tanzania?

Writing ‘location’ is not as easy as it seems. There is a very fine line between evoking locale through description, feel, and stimulation of the reader’s senses; and writing a travel narrative that relies on rushing from one place to another. The author, I feel, still has a little work to do in order to move from the latter into the former – if, of course, that is his goal.

The voice of the author is still quite young and so he peoples his story with characters who could perhaps do with a little more depth in order to really flesh out the good story that is clearly there. He safely stays with telling the story without really showing the progression. He keeps it simple: “stressed wasn’t the word” when Ben is running around trying to complete a task under severe duress. I guess ideally I would like to know what actually is going on in Ben’s mind – if stressed isn’t the word, then how might his feelings be best described? The phrase “The canapes were whisked around on trays” for me is an irksome description, (accent missing) and it sounds like the trays are hovering of their own accord, underlining that the text often needed more anchoring and a little more relevant detail. Responses and emotions to devastating turns of events are kept simple too: “Anna and I are both keeping our heads straight. It must be something to do with each of our pasts” (how? why? What these two competitors were facing was horrific, how do you keep your heads straight because of your past?); and “Because of the challenge Ben asserts he has discovered his old self”. Really? How did that happen? What does his old self mean? As a reader I would love more than simple assertions, I need understanding and a bit more depth, and in that way the character development pulls the reader in.

A good editorial/proofreading hand would give it the once over and weed out repetitive words of which the author is clearly fond; would spot that the clock times that are given in the first half as 610 / 648, then largely move onto the more usual rendering of 5:58 in the second; and would also sort the multiple examples of “There’s “some other contestants” where the shortening is ‘there is’, but which should of course in this instance be ‘there are’ – this is a usual term in common parlance nowadays (in fact India Knight, I noted, recently used it in an article in The Sunday Times) but I still feel it’s not ideal for a novel. I would also knock the term air stewardess on the head as it became outdated at the end of the 20th Century and replace it with flight attendant, which would have been more usual in 2013, when the book is set. In 2020 of course it has changed again and the preferred term is cabin crew.

There is action and tension aplenty and the author’s writing at the moment is ideal for the YA genre, he excels at getting his characters to move around, there is splendid adventure and plenty of drama and tension. As he grows in confidence and further hones his skills as a writer, he will blossom into a very competent storyteller for all age groups. There are well over 100 very positive ratings for the book on Amazon, so take a punt like we did and see what you think.

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