The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen – Advance Review [Bane of Kings]


Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, covers The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen, published by Angry Robot imprint Strange Chemistry and released on March 4 2014. It’s a young adult novel that deals with time travel, and is the first in the Alex Wayfare series.

“I never expected The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare to be as good as it was. It took me completely by surprise and turned out to be quite possibly one of the best novels from Strange Chemistry books to date. Forget popular books like The Hunger Games & Twilight, M.G. Buehrlen’s debut novel is something that every young adult fan should read.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.

But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.

It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.

Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.

And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.

Time travel has been a great part of science fiction and fantasy culture primarily due to the 50-year old British Science Fiction TV series Doctor Who and the Back to the Future trilogy. The subject genre has also given us novels like Stephen King’s 11.22.63, and of course the classic H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine. With such a vast subject to cover it’s amazing that beyond the aforementioned titles you’ll probably struggle to recall and really exceptional time travel material in both novels and film that  has been really, truly brilliant. Despite the fact that M.G. Buehrlen’s The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare may not look like much on the blurb, sounding like another time-travel romance story, but despite the fact that romance does play an important part in this book the main focus is on the time travel, and the plot actually moves forward rather than just being about two characters falling in love. It’s compelling, page-turning and a really quick read – something that will appeal to fans of both young adult and adult fiction alike.

The57LivesofAlexWayfareThe main character is 17 year old Alex Wayfare, who’s a sort of time traveller. She lacks a TARDIS and a DeLorean, but what she does have the ability to do is move through fifty seven different lifetimes, in various bodies and actually live history rather than read about it in paper. The catch? When she time travels, she transports herself into different people’s bodies and it’s not always clear whose bodies she’s going to end up in. And then of course, there are rules – you cannot fall in love, or kill a person, because this may end up changing the future altogether. It’s clear that the writer has actually put some thought process into the idea of time travel and doesn’t make up new rules as she goes along. It’s good to see a sense of direction as well, because the plot rapidly advances and as a result allows for a really compelling read.

Alex Wayfare is a likable, rootable and engaging character. She’s the outsider at school – nicknamed “Wayspaz” by her peers, with little friends and a good ability to fix things. It’s not often that you get a well rounded character in young adult fiction nowadays – particularly female characters tend to be underdeveloped often, but Alex is one that certainly has been fleshed out and over the course of the book really grows as a character. And more importantly, Alex actually gets stuff done. You’d be amazed at how many young adult novels (and not just YA novels) there are where the female protagonist doesn’t actually do a lot of stuff other than fall in love with the man. When a book is written entirely through a first person perspective it’s important that you can connect to and root for the main character and that’s what Buehrlen does. Alex isn’t off-putting and never feels like a Mary-Sue.

The storyline is fantastic. It explores time travel in a way that most novels don’t – what if you ended up in other people’s bodies rather than time travel by yourself? Marty McFly didn’t have to deal with this situation, and neither does The Doctor. Buehrlen’s take on time travel is inventive and imaginative – and it’ll be interesting to see what direction she takes the book if there is a sequel. She does include a romance element which will normally throw people off but it actually works here, not bogging down the story and still creating a really compelling read. There isn’t a love triangle that most books seem to be so full of nowadays and it’s all the better because of that. If anything, The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare shows that you can write a good young adult novel with a female character that doesn’t have to deal with two separate love interests. It’s a refreshing break and makes Alex feel more realistic and less of an author’s wish-fulfillment.

Despite being a lot of fun, The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare does have two minor issues that could have been developed more. They don’t really detract from the overall enjoyment of the book but it would have been nice to see the secondary characters developed a bit more, especially when Alex herself was so well fleshed out. The other complaint is nothing to do with the writing of the book at all, it’s the fact that the cover is not as great as it could have been. A time travel novel has a potential for a great cover but the opportunity was really wasted here as it feels bland and generic, much like the “Man with hood” covers that epic fantasy seems to be full of nowadays.

On the whole, The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare is an excellent book that can be recommended to all lovers of young adult fiction, with something that readers of almost every genre will find something to enjoy here. It’s compelling, page-turning and something that everybody should check out upon its release. It’s one of the best Strange Chemistry novels yet and that’s no easy award to win – the publisher has given the reader some excellent books in the form of titles like Laura Lam’s Pantomime, Kim Curran’s Shift and Rosie Best’s Skulk. Hopefully, this novel will get a sequel – because Alex Wayfare’s world is something that should be very interesting to return to.

VERDICT: 4.75/5

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer