Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book Review: The Hidden Institute by Brand Gamblin

The Hidden Institute by Brand Gamblin.


Cliffy is a nobody, a commoner without much hope for anything. But when he witnesses a murder, he starts down a path of blackmail that will get him an education at the illegal Hidden Institute. The course of study offered will teach him to behave like a nobleman and pass himself off as one of that number, effectively opening many more doors than he could ever have hoped before. Of course, this practice is highly illegal, and there are a group of people who specifically seek to expose people like Cliffy. They’ve got their sights right on Cliffy. It’s only a matter of time before they catch up to him, but can he evade them long enough to stop a plot to kill a head of state?

That was my summary. Here's the summary I got from

Rising above your station can be deadly.

Cliffy is a child born on the streets of a Neo-Victorian world. Witnesses to a murder, he blackmails a nobleman, receiving a unique bribe. In exchange for his silence, the nobleman introduces him to the Malcolm Rutherford Holden Institute of Regentrification. There, Cliffy learns to walk, talk, and act like a nobleman, so that he may infiltrate high society. But that type of fraud is punishable by death, and when Cliffy uncovers a plot to assassinate a head of state, he's hunted by more than just the aristocracy.

Royal intrigue, daring escapes, sub-dermal machines, and bear polo. A grand adventure in a not-so-distant world. 


I could very easily go into a huge rant about class systems and the “unspoken” social devisions in America, but I won’t right now. Suffice it to say a finishing school like The Hidden institute would do a lot of people a lot of good these days, although the class divisions and the social ceilings in the novel make their need for it necessary. It’s impossible to cross stations in the novel due to extensive background checks. You have what you have, and that’s your entire lot in life. Even getting into the Institute is expensive, and it’s something Cliffy could never have hoped to do in his normal life. There’s a scene in one of Cliffy’s classes that goes into the economy that created the social structure of his world, and that does worlds to explain the attitudes of the nobles towards the commoners. It’s very well done.


I did not read The Hidden Institute. I listened to it via It was a one-person narration, read by the author. What I like about this sort of format is that there are two ways to go. It can be a straight read, or the narrator can actually differentiate voices for the characters. Gamblin took the latter route, and it was spectacular. It’s pretty obvious that the text itself is written in lingo/dialect (where appropriate), and his performance was so characterized (especially for Cliffy) that the transformation from street kid to young gentleman was made even more clear and drastic. I don’t think you’ll lose anything if you read the novel rather than listen to it, but Gamblin’s performance really speaks to the audio medium.

The writing itself is clear and easy to understand without being condescending. The slang that Cliffy uses as a boy isn’t ever fully explained, but I don’t feel idiotic for not knowing exactly what is meant by each word. I swear, there were about twelve different uses for a single slang word and I’m still not sure I could use it right if forced to. But that doesn’t feel wrong. Cliffy and the others of his kind knew how to use it, and that was perfect. They expressed themselves in such a different lingo than I use that it almost comes across as a whole other language, and that was fascinating to me.

My thoughts

I heard about this first through a promo on another podcast, and it grabbed my attention so that I had to read/listen to it. And I am so glad I did! I immediately fell into the world, the culture, and became engrossed in the characters. They’re all clearly defined and their actions are really constant to their own personalities and natures. Dizzy does things because there’s no way he could do anything else. He simply is himself, take it or leave it. From start to finish, Cliffy is himself, but his transformation is still more than just surface. The Institute does make someone different out of him, sure, but the badly-spoken boy from the beginning is still underneath that exterior. This book is a great draw and is well worth the time (not much) to read or listen to it. Seriously… I listened to it in a single work day. And I enjoyed every minute.

Would I recommend it? Oh hell yes! This was a great trip in an awesome setting with a killer premise. Don’t miss out! I give The Hidden Institute a regentrificated 3 out of 5 stars.

You can find more info on the book on the author's website.

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