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Hostage Three  Export - Nick Lake I had a great (IMHO) review all planned out for this novel. Unfortunately, inspiration struck just as I was falling asleep, so that review has been gobbled up by my subconscious and try as I might, I can’t seem to recover that pithy first paragraph. So apologies for the following review, which is going to be scrounged from memory. A novel that successfully explores a captor/captive narrative from both sides is a difficult thing to achieve, particularly when it’s a story that involves the development of understanding, or sympathy, between the parties. Whether you want to label this Stockholm Syndrome, or human empathy, or lust, or risk-taking behaviour – writing about how such a situation could arise in a realistic and sensitive fashion is a heavy undertaking. In Hostage Three, Nick Lake achieves this with limited success. The story is related from the viewpoint of Amy, who has embarked on a round world sailing trip with her father and step-mother when their yacht is seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia. It’s established early in the novel that Amy – while extremely wealthy and privileged – is wrestling with some demons in the form of her mother’s suicide, her poor relationship with her father and his subsequent remarriage. Amy views herself as unremarkable. A talented musician, she’s given up the violin after her mother’s death, and her prevailing attitude toward her life and future is one of apathy. When the story opens, she’s got herself some facial piercings, lit a cigarette in her final exam in order to be deliberately removed from it, goes clubbing – but it’s clear that these actions stem largely from a desire for her father’s attention. Initially wary of the suggestion of a family holiday, Amy realises it’s an opportunity to secure some of his time and goes along with the plan with some tentative hope beneath her sullen façade. Enter the Somali pirates, or Coast Guard, as they call themselves. What Lake does most successfully with this novel is juxtapose Amy’s life of material comfort and ease with that of the Somalis’ daily struggle to survive. Credit where credit is due, Lake does a good job of explaining how piracy has become a business, a way of life, and the pragmatic, transactional approach many of the pirates take to their work. This isn’t merely for the benefit of the reader; as Amy herself gradually gains insight into the Somalis’ lives, she begins to understand, if not sympathise with their situation. Being caught in this mental quicksand of being a hostage while relating to her captors is further complicated when Amy starts to feel an attraction to young translator, Farouz. It could have all gone horribly wrong here, and I’ll admit I experienced a moment of knee-jerk “ugh” the first time Amy mentions checking out Farouz’s body or whatever, fearing that the story was going to launch into some kind of star-crossed-love mawkishness. And while a relationship of some kind does develop here, it’s important to note that neither Lake nor Amy try to convince the reader that this is “love”. It’s always clear that this is an intense, unstable situation involving a character who cannot entirely trust her feelings. Despite this, I found the execution of Amy’s emotional journey somewhat lacking. It wasn’t quite enough to pull off the scenario the novel presents convincingly. I can’t help but compare Hostage Three to Stolen by Lucy Christopher, where the main character’s mental and emotional arc was all too vivid and believable. In Hostage Three, I never quite felt Amy’s psychological trauma was communicated as strongly as necessary to make the story work. Although the story is related in her words, there’s a distance from Amy, and connecting with her emotions is vital to invest in the conflict. In theory, I feel like I understand what Nick Lake was attempting to convey. In reality, it just wasn’t there for me. Amy’s growth, including the development of her relationship with her father, her comprehension of who her mother was a person, and working through her feelings of guilt and regret are slightly better handled. However, probably the strongest elements of the novel are in Lake’s portrayal of life in Somalia through the characters and their stories. Farouz recounts how he came to be involved with the coast guard, including fragments of a harrowing escape from Mogadishu and the cost of his survival. Despite the risk of this becoming a story about how a rich white girl learns a valuable life lesson from the less-fortunate, Lake avoids this by taking care to balance this story between the characters. On the surface, it’s Amy’s story, yet it becomes more than this as it unfolds and concludes. Though I found the execution of Hostage Three’s central premise hit and miss, it has piqued my interest in picking up his Printz-winning In Darkness.