This novel tackles some pretty fundamental themes. Told through the experiences and voices of two young people, Will, an innocent boy from a rural settlement, and Leah, a rather more worldly and sophisticated girl from a city, the story is woven through their separate adventures in their different worlds until the two collide.
Excellent imagination details this dystopian society where, as so often in a catastrophic situation, those without a moral compass rise to the top through sheer terror, often disguised as passion, to strike dread into the hearts of those they oppress.
There is brutality, some of it extreme, in this imagined future Earth. Climate change has caused havoc and great destruction both environmentally and socially. Inevitably, religious radicals have used the chaos to develop a control system founded on brute force, demanding absolute obedience.
We meet good, bad, and mixed characters here. The good are flawed and easy to empathise with through their frailties. Among the bad are true villains, lacking any saving graces: these are monstrous men driven by fear, cowardice, greed and a burning hunger for power; creatures of nightmare demonstrating that there’s no villain like a distorted human being.
The settings are well constructed and described well through the eyes of our contrasting protagonists. The author manages to create narratives that are entirely believable in the two very different voices of the girl and boy.
As social comment, this novel has much to say about injustice, the utter ineffectiveness of torture as a tool for development, the appalling tribal nature of radical religion, the way in which myth and legend can be manipulated to form damaging but superficially attractive creeds, and the amazing courage and determination that some individuals can find in appalling conditions. It also says a good deal about the crucial difference between ignorance and stupidity.
It’s not an easy read, and I suspect many readers will shed tears along the journey. Others will cheer at the demise of those deserving justice. There’s a strong moral message here, but not one that beats the reader over the head. It’s more subtly constructed, but should be clear to the age group for which this book is written.
The author remains true to her wonderfully created characters throughout, and gives them room to grow as the story unfolds.
The denouement builds well and pace increases as the action reaches its climax. But this is the first book in a series and we’re left with many unanswered questions at the end of this portion of a tale that has far to go before it’s conclusion. We’re sufficiently absorbed and encouraged by this part to want to find out what happens next. And that, after all, is the purpose of the book series.
This is a thoroughly well thought out and imagined world, and we’re left to ponder the fates of those players we’ve come to love and loathe. I look forward to the next in the series of this excellent tale.