Reviewed by Lucy Middlemass
Render tells the story of Koldan, a young medical student with a mysterious Russian heritage. As he prepares to propose to girlfriend Raya, his grandfather’s sudden death leads him to a basement, a journal and a map. Following the old man’s travel plans, the couple journey across the world with Koldan’s brother and discover someone has a bleak scheme for Koldan’s future.
There’s lots to enjoy in the plot. Early on, the kids find a body in a bog and later Raya suffers a prolonged and painful injury from a jellyfish sting. There are also some nice cliff hanger chapter endings. But as the story progresses there’s an enormous amount of focus on characters’ physical descriptions, which direction they are all looking and what the light is like. The group repeatedly split up, find trouble and find each other again. This makes the pace frustrating.
The narration is split between Koldan, the young prodigy, and Raya. Koldan’s voice is mature and formal. He notes about his brother, “I know this behavior is anomalous to the usual manner in which he conducts himself.” Koldan has been under a great deal of pressure from his father since he was a boy, so his voice makes sense.
I felt the author missed the chance to make Raya’s voice substantially different. The couple share an unusual vocabulary and have the same precise way of speaking. Raya is somehow able to maintain this even when she’s narrating through intolerable pain. Despite the characters’ ages, there isn’t much to suggest Render is a YA novel and the language choices are part of this. Raya herself has an interesting back story, but in this novel it’s only hinted at.
There’s are some lovely descriptions, such as the moment Koldan returns to his grandfather’s house for the first time since his death and observes, “I slow down when the front of the house comes into view, its sprawling stone structure stretching momentarily across the windshield like a mural.”
Render has appeal for a mature YA audience, who will enjoy the danger at sea, gunfights, daring escapes and love story.