Areh by Jeffrey Kinsey

Monday 3 July 2017

An ancient and cruel religion, The Purpose, deifies children for their deformities—a beautiful girl with three arms, a brave boy with one eye... the exceptional list goes on. Painted and costumed, they are worshipped on stage. Shy and exposed, they are ridiculed in the streets, often by the same faces. Glorious or repulsive? Gods or freaks? How deep will the identity divide be dredged, and to which side will the truth finally tip? Out of the city, through strange forests and dark dreams, we follow six young friends as they chase their answer. Lightning-lit and pulling moon into mountain, it awaits them at the top of the world.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my thoughts.

The first thing you notice about Areh is that it's an incredibly beautiful piece of art. Because it is so much more than just a book. Throughout, there are inked illustrations and full colour, full page paintings alongside the lyrical prose. The chapter titles are all handwritten, and you really get the sense for the love and care that was put into the project, as well as the vivid imagery and unique experience that is the story of Areh.

The second - and perhaps more subjective thing - is just how confusing it can be. Some scenes are very easy to follow whilst still remaining the poetic tone, but there are others (namely Areh's mini chapters) that I personally could not get my head around. They're steeped in metaphors and wrapped in analogies and I've never been very good at deciphering those sort of things. Which is one of my own shortcomings, not the book's. If you enjoy descriptive, flowery prose and what could be classed as a slightly more challenging read then this is the story for you. If not, though I would still recommend giving this a chance, I'd also recommend allocating a decent amount of time to reading it as I found it did slow me down a little bit.

Nevertheless, I got through this pretty quickly, as it is quite short. It's jam packed with details about each character and goes into great depth about Remi's life, starting in childhood and following him and his friends into adulthood and everything that awaited them. Areh is most definitely a character driven novel that takes its time exploring human nature and the intricate relationships of the main characters. We see things through Remi's eyes, but we still get a good picture of everyone else as the group is so close thanks to their weekly Presentations and the journey they set out on halfway through the book. We also get to see a fair amount of growth, even throughout adulthood, not just as the characters age. Sammy, in particular, started out as an obnoxious brat but by the end of the book I'd come to understand him more - close to the point of even liking him.

I would, however, have preferred there to be more of a plot. Particularly in the first half, which I found to be dull compared to the second part which took us up the mountain and focused more on explaining the character of Yolandi and introducing some intensity. While I can appreciate and do enjoy profiling characters, I'm big on action, and it's this one gripe that results in the three stars, but overall my views remain favourable as this is a very thought-provoking read.

I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to read this, so thanks again to Jeff, the author, for sending me a copy. I don't think I've experience anything quite like this, and I doubt if I'll come across another book half as unique any time soon.

Jeffrey Kinsey and his work can be found at...
Amazon UK
Amazon US


  1. How is the premise handled? Because handled well it could be really good. Not handled well... it could be ableist and a sh** storm!

    1. It reminded me of X-Men in some ways: both revered and reviled. But what did kind of annoy me (and spoiler/trigger warning) is that a characters suicide is used as a motivator. Other than that, I didn't feel there were too many problems? But I'm able-bodied so honestly couldn't tell you for sure. Read with your own discretion, is the best advice I suppose.


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