This book felt very, very real. The day I started reading it, there was a new story showing on one of the TVs at work about the rights of EU citizens to live in England, so Mallory’s world of extreme prejudice where the north of our country is annexed and left to die for the sake of resources and someone to blame didn’t seem that far fetched. It’s a rare thing to find dystopian books set in England – usually they’re pretty evidently America-based, and since I’ve never been there I can allow myself to feel somewhat removed from what is happening on the pages. This one, however, struck home. One side of my family comes from ‘up North’ (Yorkshire I believe), my Granddad is the most northern man you have ever met, complete with flat-cap. Not only was this a novel set in a country I know very well, it was also one in which half of my family would be taken away. As I was reading the thoughts kept drifting through my mind, would they let me stay? Would I survive? Would I fight?
Even if you’ve never been to Jolly old England, home of rain, marmite and queuing, never fear. You don’t need to have been to Birmingham to experience how brilliant this book is. Mallory’s writing style is a joy, an equal mix of serious and scary, and funny and human. We see through Skyler’s childhood the slow – and then unnervingly rapid – movement of prejudice and blame across the country. It’s an argument we all know too well from the news today regarding immigration – it’s these people stealing your jobs and your food and making everything more expensive! No, don’t look at us, we’re on your side, we’re the good guys! Look at them! Blame them! With the judicial application of scapegoating and violence, the nation watches from two very different sides as a wall is built dividing it and those falling either side either live or die depending on this arbitrary marker of territory.
Skyler is a hacker from the North, trying to survive in a country where her lack of Southern ID could get her killed without hesitation. She thought knowing the local crime boss was a lot to cope with, but when a well known thief, Mackenzie, who she happens to know calls her in to look at a memory stick he’s found? Skyler, Mackenzie and those around them find themselves in deep over their heads before they know what is happening. The Board are planning something, something they will kill indiscriminately to keep quiet, and Skyler holds the key to exposing it. The cast of characters is diverse and complex, and the dystopian hell they find themselves in does wonderfully interesting things to their respective moral compasses. I wanted to know what would happen next, I finished the book in two days and I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel. The moment I finished it, I texted my fiancee and told her she had to read it, that’s how much I loved this book.
Also, and it gives me so much joy to say this: here there be ladies loving ladies. It does not overtake the plot in any way, and it’s FANTASTICALLY DONE. You have no idea how long I have been waiting to read a book with a lesbian relationship (I use the term loosely, as I’m not sure if one of them identifies as a lesbian, but she definitely likes this particular lady) that I could recommend to the masses, but here it is. Go read Blackout.
Interestingly, this is a book that also deals well with mental illness – which now I’ve read it makes total sense. If ever there is an event that is going to bring to light or worsen mental suffering, it’s probably going to be the installment of a dictatorship on your doorstep. Mackenzie suffers throughout the book with his own mental demons, and has to face them head-on to do what he knows is right, and it was so compassionately done that I wanted to cry. This is how you deal with mental health in fiction. We see him suffer, we see him unable to stop himself going through endless compulsory coping mechanisms, we see others around him judge and disparage him for his illness and we see him be a kick ass character despite all of this.
Dear lord I just want all of these characters (well, most of them) to be happy, but I guess I have to wait until BOOK TWO TO FIND OUT. It’s not fair, it really isn’t
I would also, on a slightly off-topic point, like to state my never ending appreciation of a team assigned to deal with explosives which is literally called Charlie Four.
Overall, I could not recommend this book highly enough. If you’re fans of dystopian fiction, thrillers, or just good books give this one a try. I for one cannot wait to see what the sequel has in store!
Overall rating: 5 books out of 5