Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light was set to be the big British release of the summer - until it was knocked off the top spot of the Sunday Times bestseller list last month by The Eve Illusion, the second instalment in a young adult fantasy series from Tom Fletcher, of the pop band McFly, and his wife, Giovanna, author and host of the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast.
The Eve of Man trilogy may be a lesser-known one, but it's quietly become a hit, thanks to its intriguing premise, star-crossed lovers and gripping cliffhangers.
In a post-Hunger Games, post-Handmaid's Tale literary landscape, it can be difficult to produce a dystopian novel that feels fresh and exciting, yet the Fletchers managed to do just that. Eve is the first girl born in 50 years to a world ravaged by the climate crisis and is heralded "the saviour of humanity". Raised by a group of elderly women known as the "Mothers", she grows up in the highest room of the tallest tower in London, a highly sheltered upbringing that keeps her cloistered away from the masses of "Freevers" who protest for her freedom.
At the end of the first novel, the 16-year-old Eve escaped from the Tower with Bram, a "hologram pilot" with whom she had fallen in love.
Arriving two years after the first title in the series, The Eve Illusion opens with a handy recap, taking readers back to the moments before Eve's flight, and introducing a third narrator, Michael, the security guard who had previously cornered her in a lift - a menacing encounter that makes his redemption arc rather a lot to ask of the reader.
The addition of his perspective helps to connect the action taking place in and outside the Tower, though he never rises above a cardboard character, serving mainly to relay the brutal violence that is such a feature of this much darker sequel.
For all its torture sequences and high-octane action, The Eve Illusion is more sluggish than its predecessor, and it lags in the middle as Eve plots her next move and Michael's bosses interrogate her allies. It doesn't help that the supporting players are largely forgettable.
While the Fletchers deliver some immersive world-building, the writing suffers from an over-reliance on clumsy exposition and cheap tricks such as rhetorical questions and strings of one-sentence paragraphs. It also suffers from a bizarrely rigid framework for gender roles and sexuality - a holdover from Eve of Man, which cast Eve as the damsel in distress and Bram her valiant knight. Despite Bram appearing as a female hologram, Holly, the writers never entertained the prospect of same-sex attraction, and queer characters were wholly absent from the novel.
This time around, Eve rebels against the stereotype of the "pathetic fairytale princess" ("did you ever hear me say I needed rescuing?" she demands), and quickly assumes Bram's position as leader of the resistance, placing him second in command. Yet again, there are no gay men, trans women or non-binary characters who might have helped to enrich this otherwise stiflingly heterosexual world of men.
The Eve Illusion's exploration of the chaos wrought by the climate emergency is sure to resonate with anxious teens and adults, just as Eve and Bram's struggles with family, love, loss, betrayal,and death will generate readers' sympathies. A predictable yet enthralling cliffhanger will have fans hankering for the final instalment, but so far, the Eve of Man trilogy doesn't live up to its promise.