Having finished reading Room 119 by T.F. Lince, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t sure what the genre of this book was; the cover suggests crime or mystery, while the start of the story sets the scene for a rather ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ vibe. However, about 25% of the way through, I realised that it was fantasy. Not being my go-to genre, I was intrigued to see how Lince would handle what had been set up as quite a dramatic, serious story to incorporate those fantastical elements.
The story – Room 119 starts with the main character, Dean at the peak of his career. He is a trader in Canary Wharf, making millions of pounds every day for his company, he has a beautiful wife and daughter at home just over an hour away and his life seems perfect. When things start to go wrong, Dean is quite taken aback and appears shocked and bemused as to how his perfect life could have gone so wrong. This echoes the prevalent issue of white privilege in today’s society. From then, he meets a couple who changes his destination, guiding him alongside some other brilliant characters to room 119 at Welnetham Hall and goes on a journey of self-discovery. He is tested in various ways to see if he is worthy of a second chance. Lince has written this very cleverly, as I did not see some of the twists coming.
What I liked most about this book was the character development. Dean is very much the repentant man; he’s sorry for how he has behaved and wants to do anything possible to make it right and get back to his family. I enjoyed the characters in the ‘other world’, as they had their own demons in the past and understood the importance of Dean’s journey and their role in it. Benjie was a particularly great character, as he was altruistic with helping Dean get back to his family while he was without his partner indefinitely. Sarah displayed excellent character development, and I loved how she chose her and Jodie’s futures and happiness over Dean when he was at his worst, but was willing to give him a second chance eventually. Jodie came across as a sweet, smart girl and I believe that Lince captured the childlike essence which returns to young people when their parents are having marital problems.
The only element I did not like was the seemingly never-ending stream of tests that Dean was put through. The first few were perfectly written with each one making complete sense, however the final test did seem like something tagged on to the end to fill out the story. I would have perhaps liked to have gotten a bit more background about Jack, Martin and Oliver instead of that, as they showed Sarah and Jodie’s lives while Dean was in the ‘other place’, but did not break out of the family bubble. The characters from his workplace appeared to be bookends, shaping and rounding off the novel but not influencing too much of the narrative in the main body.
I really enjoyed the journey that Room 119 takes the reader on, however. I was in constant turmoil over Dean’s fate, and as he gets increasingly likeable, it becomes harder to see him put through all these tests. Also, because Dean’s guides are so well-written and shape the novel in such a way that changes the reader’s perception of events, I fell in love with them and was saddened by certain events at the end. It is a very bittersweet ending. I was happy with the outcome of the book, and really enjoyed the guessing game of what really happened to Dean, and whether it was a dream or real. The best part about this novel was the way Lince intricately wove the fantasy and reality together so the reader only figures it out when the author wants them to.
Overall, I would recommend this book to most readers. It is well-written, has a decent pace, great backstory and good character development. It is a solid 4.5*. I received this book as an advance review copy from Trev Lince in exchange for an honest review.