Two things you should know about Rumer: she’s never looked for trouble a day in her life, and trouble always, always finds her. Oh, and she never meant to kill anyone – that’s kind of important too.

YA thriller, VICIOUS RUMER, tells the story of endearingly potty-mouthed Londoner, Rumer Cross (19) as she moves through life like a shadow, a ghost, trailing subjects for a detective agency while haunted by the legacy of her infamous mother, Celene. The “Red Widow”. The “Witch Assassin”. Suddenly, Rumer finds herself not only trying to escape the curse that has plagued her entire life, but also on the run from the threat of a real-life baddie seeking a mythical weapon…

VICIOUS RUMER sees a change in direction for author and journalist, Joshua Winning. Not only has he left behind the more traditional approach to publishing by building a network of patrons through Unbound, but he jumps head first into a new genre. Winning’s previous novels, published by Peridot Press, are dark fantasy: THE SENTINEL TRILOGY – SENTINEL (2014), RUINS (2015), and most recently, SPLINTER (2018).

A film journalist for Total Film, SFX and Radio Times, Winning’s cinematic vision is immediately apparent as we are dropped straight into visceral action in VICIOUS RUMER. Like his revolutionary heroine, Winning doesn’t pull his punches as we are confronted with a scene involving a hammer and the bloody remains of a man’s face. But this is not the beginning of the story, oh no. Winning favours a non-linear narrative structure, moving us back and forth between the past and more recent past with ease. Flashback chapters take us through Rumer’s rocky experiences in foster care, while she battles with her “curse” and deals with more loss and grief than one young woman should ever have to bear; all helping us understand the ruthless, independent and closed-off person Rumer is today. These flashbacks are scattered amongst a series of adrenaline-inducing events involving the enigmatic, kimono-clad Reverend Mara, until we find ourselves back where we began with the hammer and the messed-up face. But this is not the end of the journey; we are treated to a few more feints, ducks, and dodges that keep us guessing as we hurtle towards the dramatic finale, and, for me, an emotionally blindsiding conclusion.

Along the way, Rumer interacts with a cast of fascinating, and morally ambiguous, characters. Friends are few and far between, due partly to circumstance but largely down to the impenetrable walls Rumer hides behind in order to protect herself. In some ways, this makes her enemies easier to get to grips with as a reader. Her reactions towards them are more straightforward, her conversations more enjoyable – Rumer’s banter is witty and fresh. Interactions with friends and family, on the other hand, feel strained, as she deals with her feelings towards her mother, her most recent foster mother Frances, and complicated love interest, Bolt. As a narrative device, the purpose is clear – we are experiencing this through Rumer, and as she holds these people at arm’s length in order to protect herself, and them, they are held at arm’s length from the reader also. However, this distance often felt too great to overcome, leaving me wondering at times not only if Rumer truly cared, but if I did too.

However, as a complex, gritty, and clever thriller, VICIOUS RUMER hits more than it misses. Even those of a more squeamish disposition will find something to love amongst the violence and gore, with the deeper explorations of identity and atonement. This coming-of-age story delivers an emotional punch to the gut, and the shadow of Rumer will haunt you long after you finish the book.

Vicki Camps

Known by friends and foes alike as “Blondie”, Victoria is part-cat, part-chameleon. Behind her ever-changing exterior lies a mind obsessed with horror, criminal psychology, and sloths (also sleep and treats because cat). With degrees in both film and creative writing, Victoria now works in escape rooms while writing, editing, and travelling the UK/crossing the Atlantic to attend immersive theatre experiences in her spare time.
Vicki Camps

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