There is a certain feeling to Limetown–a sort of gray, cold feeling that has moments of brightness in shining character moments or especially lovely choices in production. The feeling, when you steep yourself into listening, is almost tangible, like you can feel the dust coating Limetown’s ruins, feel the exhaustion after Max and Deirdre’s fights, feel each character’s emotions along with them.
At its best, Limetown: The Prequel to the #1 Podcast (which I’ll just call Limetown: The Prequel for the rest of this reivew) captures this sense of visceral feeling over text in exactly the same way the podcast does, even without its sound design.
At its worst, though, Limetown: The Prequel does make for some confusing moments that range from nitpicky to making some parts of the first season less impactful. When I finished Limetown: The Prequel (which I was sent in advance for review), I found myself with more questions than I had when I first started–some of which had me more excited for season two, and some of which had me genuinely confused. I felt like I’d read something tonally cohesive with Limetown, but at times textually inconsistent.
As someone who loves Limetown for its tone and its characters, Limetown: The Prequel felt like a deeper dive into what makes Limetown special for me. For listeners who obsess over plot details, though, Limetown: The Prequel might not find its footing as much.
Limetown: The Prequel is the stories of Lia Haddock and Emile Haddock, told from alternating perspectives each chapter. The book begins with both of them in high school, and Lia’s story ends with her creation of the in-fiction podcast investigating Limetown.
The decision to alternate points of view each chapter is incredibly satisfying. Both characters rewards the reader in a different way. With Lia, the reader gets to see the podcast’s protagonist as she grows up, piecing together why she is the person she is when the podcast starts. Lia’s tendencies to feel a great sense of sympathy but very little empathy for others is a clear focus of her characterizaton in the novel, and showing how these tendencies develop makes her arc within the podcast even more effective. With Emile, you not only get introduced to more of Zack Aker’s and Skip Bronkie’s iconic character building (with help from co-writer of the novel, Cote Smith), but you also get a look into how, and why, Limetown was started.
Limetown‘s pacing is one of its best features, and this carries over into Limetown: The Prequel. With novels that switch point of view, there can be a tendency of the changes being too abrupt, too jarring, for the reader to invest themselves in the characters. In Limetown: The Prequel, each chapter is given exactly the time and attention they need to feel immersive but still leave the listener with a question, motivating them to keep reading. Even though both stories carry over multiple years, there isn’t a sense that much is lost in its relatively moderate 287 (per the press edition) pages.
Another facet of what Limetown does best is its more minor characters, the ones the protagonists interact with. This, too, is one of the main appeals of Limetown: The Podcast. Very few minor characters are actually minor by the time the novel ends. Each character who is introduced plays some greater role within the novel which arguably feels forced, but arguably feels exciting and interconnected in an iconically Limetown way–I expect mileage will vary in this regard based on taste, but that it’s something Limetown fans will love.
While the reader does learn much about Lia, though, it often feels like Lia learns too much about Limetown and the world around her by the time the novel ends.
It’s important to Lia’s characterization in Limetown that she knows only what everyone else does when she begins the podcast: she knows that Limetown was a city of great scientific minds; she knows that everyone went missing ten years ago; and she knows that her uncle, Emile was there. It’s the reason she didn’t know how Limetown got its name, and the reason she didn’t know much about the town itself. She, like the listener, had to investigate almost every part of the mystery herself.
When Limetown: The Prequel ends, Lia has learned much more than the podcast would suggest–without going into detail about exactly what she knows, or how she knows it. It’s a strange choice that feels inconsistent with the podcast. It’s a choice that makes the first season feel retroactively a little less exciting, a little less true to its perceived stakes. It’s something easy to move past when the greater narrative of the novel is considered, though that does beg the question: why settle on a narrative that has Lia know too much when she begins the podcast?
Other than this complain, though, Lia’s chapters are frustrating delights in exactly the way a listener would expect a teenage Lia Haddock to be. Seeing her rebellious, inquisitive, motivated personality even more accentuated in her youth is fun and fascinating. Seeing her earliest work in journalism and radio, and what made her fascinated in journalism in the first place, feel like the sort of richness in character that makes for exactly what a Limetown companion piece should be.
Time is spent on these character moments for Lia that couldn’t have been afforded in the podcast with Lia as a reporter. Here, she isn’t–usually–being the interviewer, a somewhat-impartial force coaxing answers out of someone else. Instead, the reader is allowed to be inside her head with her, mulling things over with her, getting to know her on a level that adds even more intimacy to her than that first season could have.
Emile’s chapters are similarly delightful, frustrating, and rich, but with the freedom to be something completely new for the reader to experience. The reader doesn’t have the same expectations for Emile, because in the podcast’s first season, Emile is just a name. In the novel, Emile is fully developed–and his chapters are almost painfully emotional, a contrast to Lia’s more removed, logical passages.
Emile, like Lia, is a rebellious youth whose abilities interfere with how he interacts with his classmates. Emile is prone to fights that his brother, Jacob, continually has to break apart. Emile’s relationship with Jacob is a driving force of the novel, and it’s this relationship that frames Emile’s arc. The two are bound together by circumstance and the type of difficult, frustrated, unending love that is almost always reserved for family, and it’s this bond that drives much of Emile’s actions.
By the time Emile is introduced to some of the preliminary ideas surrounding Limetown, the reader already knows exactly who he is, exactly how he works, and exactly what his future in Limetown must have been like. The characterization for Emile is so specific and so strong, it retroactively adds to much of the podcast’s first season.
For those listeners who love how Limetown feels, Limetown: The Prequel gives that exact same feeling while expanding its characters and some of its lore. For listeners who loved theorizing and picking apart the minute details of Limetown, don’t feel dissuaded: there were many moments that, while reading, I gasped when something was revealed. The novel is a treasure trove of new information and findings–just don’t expect everything to feel completely spotless in the end. And, really, is that what Limetown has ever been about? For me, it’s always been about the feeling, the characters, and what the writing is trying to convey, and ultimately Limetown: The Prequel only adds to their solid record on all of these fronts.
You can find information about Limetown: The Prequel to the #1 Podcast on IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Simon & Schuster. Limetown: The Prequel to the #1 Podcast comes out today, November 13th, 2018.