I enjoy following Annabel Smith on Twitter but I must confess I have not read either of her two earlier novels. I have been really intrigued by The Ark: an interactive novel with its own App. As exciting as it sounds, I did wonder if it may have been too abstract for me; when I was young I loved choose-your-own-adventure stories but now I feel I only have time for the linear tale. Furthermore, what a bold move to self-publish after two successful novels with traditional publishing houses! Annabel is always fair and honest with her reviews so I know she will appreciate me taking the same approach with her latest offering.
The year is 2041. The world is in chaos due to environmental crisis. A handful of scientists and their families retreat into the Ark, a seed vault inside Mt Kosciusko. The Ark holds the key to the future of life on Earth. The story of those inside the Ark is told through the a collection of their digital documents.
First Impressions: On a rather boring yet important note, the story was easy to download and put on my Kindle. I also put it on my phone to read at work (!) but as it was the PDF for the Kindle there were no interactive features. You get to pick which of the two versions you download. As for the story itself, it was very easy to get into.
Highlights: Much to my surprise, my favourite section was Rosco’s – the only teenager in the Ark. The majority of his documents are on something similar to a blog, but much more interactive. He sort of blurts out what he is feeling and gets different responses. When I first saw the slang and spelling he was using I did wonder if I could even understand it but yes, I could! Most importantly, it was really convincing; Annabel really took on the voice of a teenage boy. The other highlight for me was how much Annabel seemed to enjoy working on this project. Her enthusiasm just shines through. She created all sorts of social media platforms for people to use. The App is also like a ‘good copy’ of her ideas board and a lot of fun to explore. My husband and I were recently discussing whether any epistolary novels written after (my suggestions) the era of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are believable. (The conversation started with Gone Girl). The answer is now a resounding YES, The Ark! I also love the cover design and I don’t usually comment on covers.
If I was an editor: I would be Annabel herself! I know Annabel created different versions of the book so people like myself who like a linear story wouldn’t be scared away. However, I would have probably promoted the Ipad/interactive version more as I did start to wish I bought that version. (This may have happened but with being in the UK and having a young son I am somewhat out of the loop). However, downloading the free App made me feel a bit better as it was fun to play with.
As the novel was written in a series of documents it was easy to dip in and out of however I did at times miss a sustained text that I could completely immerse myself in. Perhaps if I bought the interactive version and was able to hear some of the transcripts read aloud I may have felt a stronger connection with some of the characters.
The final section would have been quite hard to write in the style Annabel has chosen but it did work. The ending was fitting but some of the final section could have been cut down a little. I also would have liked more on the intial contact with the ‘outside’ once the timelock was broken; for me that may have been more engaging than what played out. As The Ark website encourages fan fiction, perhaps that should be my offering…
Overall: A bold, original move that pays off. Fan fiction is encouraged, and you can buy a paperback version of the linear story directly from Annabel if you are still anti-Kindle/technology (and there’s nothing wrong with that).
The Ark: 4 stars
The Ark, the App and the whole ‘experience’: 5 stars