Commonly extrapolating elements of current society, dystopian fiction explores the darker side of possible worlds. Discover more than a Brave New World here.
With an opening scene reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Mohsin Hamid’s The Last White Man is consummately compelling from its arresting first line: “One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown”. Though Anders initially only discloses this to Oona, his long-time friend and new lover, it soon emerges that Anders is not the only person to have undergone this metamorphosis, though his boss still reacts with a revealingly blunt one-liner: “I would have killed myself.” As “it seemed people were continuing to change, white people becoming dark”, there’s growing unrest. People stockpile food and riot as “pale-skinned militants, some dressed almost like soldiers” take to the streets. Meanwhile, Anders’ darkness disturbs his dying father, but he comes to realise, bittersweetly, that “whatever Anders was, whatever his skin was, he was still his father’s son, and still his mother’s son.” The writing is exquisite - muscular, and supremely paced as it undulates between intensity and characters’ reflecting on who they are, and who and what matters to them. It’s about seeing, accepting and living together as one, with Oona’s transformation revealing much of the novel’s prescient roots. Though her change leaves her melancholic and in a state of mourning for part of herself, she also realises that she’d long been harbouring a desire to escape, to shed her skin, and now she can “abandon the confinement of the past” and grow, “unfettered.” It’s also noted how the population comes to being “better able to tell one dark person from another.” Ending on a note of hope, The Last White Man casts a timely, empathetic, powerfully thought-provoking spell.
Every adult on earth suddenly shares the same surreal experience, when overnight a box arrives on the doorstep of everyone aged 22 and older across the world. The measure of your life lies within. Each person is presented with a string of a different length, and the string determines how long you have left on Earth. Would you open the box? It's a brilliant concept, brilliantly written, brilliantly realised dystopian world which pits "long-stringers" against "short-tringers", fear drives the divides in society as people struggle to come to terms with the new reality. By a debut author who we are sure will be one to watch, The Measure is a fantastic first outing for Nikki Erlick. As the world comes to terms with their fates, we follow the lives of eight ordinary people finding and fighting their way through the fear. We meet the unforgettable cast of characters and as the months fly by we come to root for them, care for them and understand their interconnectedness. A beautiful story about family, friendship, hope, fate and destiny that encourages us to live life to the fullest. We care for the couple who are deeply in love: long-stringer Nina and short-stringer Maura. We mourn for architect Ben whose girlfriend left him when she found out about his short-string, for Hank, the doctor who saves everyone apart from himself. For Javier and Jack the best friends, the soldiers who have been through everything together. The lives of the main characters are all set against the backdrop of Anthony Rollins the blue blooded congressman from Virginia who sees the arrival of the strings as a blessing from God and uses them to create fear and uncertainty to bolster his campaign. It's a timely, page-turning triumph and I can't recommend it enough.
A debut that sings, in fact roars with strong vibrant themes, beautiful storytelling, and fabulous characters. Three women sit centre stage as the trials begin to find the next rulers of the Empire, each has different coloured blood and were born to very different roles. This is the first in the The Final Strife series, and Author Saara El-Arifi has created the most compelling world with roots in Ghanian folklore and Arabian myths. A vivid energy crackles into life from the start. The sense of place is immense, I saw, I felt, I believed. The three very different young women who lead in the story, in such different ways, have fascinating characters. The story flows through some thought-provoking topics, from oppression and rebellion through to drug addiction. Love can be found in its many guises including friendship as well as romance. While tyranny rules, this in an inclusive land in terms of relationships and diversity. I would say this is definitely not for younger teens due to content, but is suitable for those heading towards their twenties as well as adults. This first book sets up the continuing story rather wonderfully and I can’t wait to see where we head next. A LoveReading Star Book and Liz Pick of the Month, The Final Strife, so very clever, bold and provocative has set aflame a new world that promises much, highly recommended.
Otherworldly, yet rooted in patriarchal realities, Kelly Barnhill‘s When Women Were Dragons is a storytelling masterwork. Set from the 1950s, it presents a magnificent maelstrom of fire-breathing women who refuse to keep quiet, exposing the trauma of enforced silence, and shining a blazing light on how vital it is to transcend imposed shame and live your own way. “I was four years old when I first saw a dragon. I was four years old when I first learned to be silent about dragons. Perhaps this is how we learn silence — an absence of words, an absence of context, a hole in the universe where the truth should be”. So shares Alex, the narrator of this brilliant novel, who lives at a time when adults remember the “mass dragoning” of women that occurred on 25th April 1955, but never mention it. Alex’s aunt Marla was among those who rose up and transformed into a dragon, but it’s as if she never existed. Marla is never spoken of again - not by Alex’s sick mother, and not by Alex’s father, who leaves her to raise Marla’s daughter Beatrice. Before her transformation and vanishing, Marla told Alex that, “All women are magic. Literally all of us. It’s in our nature. It’s best you learn that now”. Fearing little Beatrice won’t be able to resist her powerful urges to dragon, Alex shuns any such notions, and silences Beatrice’s talk of dragons. But librarian Mrs Gyzinska, who supports Alex’s plan to become a mathematician, shares her learned insights, and frames the phenomenon of dragoning in the context of patriarchy: “There are people who have problems with women, and alas, many of them are also women. That is because of something called the patriarchy… an unnecessary and oppressive obstacle, and best disposed of as soon as possible.” As Alex grapples with tremendous conflicts and prejudice, we’re presented with a spectacular prom scene, a tense but glorious reunion, a beautiful love of a lifetime, and glorious sisterhood. What a story.
This is Britain – but not as we know it. The country is reeling in the aftermath of the Free and Equal Britain (FEB) movement, a political regime that dismantled the structures of society and brought about the unjust killing of millions of citizens. Dom and Thea, two survivors trying to move on with their lives, face a race against time to discover the truth behind a child trafficking ring somehow connected to FEB-era politicians. Their desperation is present at every turn of this haunting fiction. Every move they make is riddled with tension; who is watching over them? Who can really be trusted? Cruickshanks' prose is beautifully taut – not a word is wasted – and her short, punchy paragraphs add pace to the thriller when it’s most needed. The narrative shifts between Thea’s and Dom’s stories with ease, both characters and their tragic pasts treated with emotional sensitivity rather than pity. Their resilience and integrity shine in an otherwise corrupt world – it’s impossible to not get swept along with them and their cause. The Liberation’s Child is dystopian fiction at its finest…but don’t be fooled. Although this version of London may be far removed from any modern reality, the unnerving themes that lie at the heart of this harrowing story - human trafficking, political unrest and genocide – will undoubtedly strike a chord with many.
‘Fragmented Souls’ by Kasha Ross is a dystopian YA fantasy story set in a brutal world that almost mixes The Hunger Games and Fight Club. A natural disaster, the emittance of a gas only deadly to humans, decimates the population. Now, those who remain live in dark times, where the main leaders impose weekly fights between gangs of the poverty ridden populace. Told from the perspective of Harley, the main character and leader of her young gang, and Jimmy, her best friend, the reader sees the tyrannical “Big Three” threaten Harley and those she loves. As the plot escalates, Harley and Jimmy get closer and he and all of her friends may have to risk everything to save Harley’s younger brother. A motley crew of pick-pockets, fighters, healers and more, each of the characters have their own quirks and talents, with distinct personalities to get to know, to add lighter moments, and to help the gang as they try to track down Harley’s brother J. The prologue shows the start of this tyrannical and violent world, and intrigued me immediately. I was curious to figure out exactly how the characters in the prologue are connected to the teens in the rest of the story. The incorporation of the supernatural with Harley’s unique characteristics is subtle throughout the book, I enjoyed this additional element and found that it was interwoven in a way that complimented the rest of the plot. As perhaps might be expected, there’s a love triangle theme that plays out as the gang work to find J. which I thought provided another facet to the story and allowed for softer moments amongst the violence of the setting and the action. ‘Fragmented Souls’ came to a dramatic conclusion and left me with a few questions and eager to know when I might be able to discover the answers. Charlotte Walker, A LoveReading Ambassador
THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER 'We have your daughter' Frida Liu is a struggling mother. She remembers taking Harriet from her cot and changing her nappy. She remembers giving her a morning bottle. They'd been up since four am. Frida just had to finish the article in front of her. But she'd left a file on her desk at work. What would happen if she retrieved it and came back in an hour? She was so sure it would be okay. Now, the state has decided that Frida is not fit to care for her daughter. That she must be re-trained. Soon, mothers everywhere will be re-educated. Will their mistakes cost them everything? The School for Good Mothers is an explosive and thrilling novel about love and the pressures of perfectionism, parenthood and privilege.
Welcome to an entertaining wild ride, stuffed full of action and spiky humour. 22 humans remain on a ship set to colonise a planet, the robots have to decide which of the humans will fill the 12 seats to the surface. The publishers have declared this as The Hunger Games meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and while I could most definitely sense the connection, for me this had a sentient Robot Wars (but with the robots in the driving seat) come Lord of the Flies vibe. And yet, even with these four comparisons rushing around this is a resoundingly individual novel. The dedication is entirely fabulous, and aims its own kick. The mix of robots and age old children makes for an intruiging dystopian premise. It took a little while for me to settle in, and to actually engage with all of the characters as the focus of each is so narrow. Spenser was by far my favourite though, adored him! James Breakwell is known for his humour and that definitely makes itself known here with a decided edge. If you’re looking for something a little different, then head this way. The Chosen Twelve is a quirky, high-energy, surprisingly thoughtful novel and I’ve chosen it as one of my Liz Picks of the Month.
In this her third dystopian thriller, Dalcher gives another chilling look into an alternative future where a woman and her daughter seek refuge in a women-only colony after the country sinks into total economic collapse. Darker than her other reads, but still female-centric and speculative, this tells the tale of widowed Miranda Reynolds and her sixteen-year-old Emma whose only hope for survival is Femlandia, a male-free colony set up decades earlier by Miranda's estranged mother. It's another twisty turny rollercoaster ride of emotion and thought-provoking themes. It's raw, it's disturbing in places, the characters are incredibly flawed and I flew through it at pace. Pulled in from the very first few pages and hooked until the end, for me Dalcher is firmly becoming the queen of speculative fiction.
Egan’s finely tuned skill as a storyteller seduces you. Right from the opening chapter he sets up a delicious, nerve-tingling sense of foreboding, with references that range from Game of Thrones and mushroom clouds to Afghanistan, Iraq and the impending end of the world. He doesn’t so much hook you into his imagined world, as gently caress a net around you, coaxing you onto each page after the next. And what a story he tells. Plucky, thoughtful Kyle Halfpenny, year 11, lives with her Dad who is either a mad drunk or prescient seer. She sees bigger pictures and small details and has views, thoughts and fears that all speak of a profound understanding and compassion for the lot of those in her world. She communes with foxes, mourns for a lasagne that had ”shrunk in on itself, like it was trying to hide from it’s own failings” and through the absence of her mother and missing her brother, she cares for her Dad, a lasagne made mortal, who seeks sanctuary with Kyle on a island imbued with history, overrun by rabbits and the home of hope. This is a one hell of a read, for YA readers as much as for the intended adult audience. It is a cautionary tale of the corrosive effect on life of unfettered fear, the acid that eats joy. It is a sad and lyrical hymn to our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other. And, with its exquisite, magical, story-within-a story, it is an enchanting fable about the gritty beauty of life and of all lives. Unless you’re a rabbit.
30 years after the dramatic climate events of ‘Iceapelago’ Peter Brennan’s sequel ‘Iceapelago 2091’ shows us how those who survived have managed to cope with the devastation and loss caused by the collapse of the gulf stream and the arrival of tsunamis, referenced as the Eriador event. Having read and enjoyed the first book in this series, I was curious to see where the story went next. There’s lots of explanation throughout, so those who haven’t read the first book won’t be too lost although to fully understand how Ireland became Iceapelago I would recommend starting with Brennan’s previous book. As bad weather is on the horizon yet again, the struggle to survive for all across Iceapelago is about to get tougher. I really enjoyed this follow-up by Peter Brennan. A survival thriller with plenty of drama, the storyline didn’t once go where I expected it to. I also liked the way that the book shows the perspective of the animals, Rory’s Dog Alfie and the Arctic Foxes, I found this an entertaining twist. This environmental thriller is fast paced, easy to read and - as our weather systems continue to change with the impact of climate change - worryingly plausible. Charlotte Walker, A LoveReading Ambassador
‘Iliba Uravels’ by Ed Crutchley has a futuristic storyline, where constant surveillance via wristwatches monitor everyone’s interactions, crime is at its lowest levels, and yet we have Detective Inspector Hubert Plon on hand to handle any murders that do arise. As he begins a budding yet secretive relationship, he is called to investigate the murder of a man that had been developing artificial intelligences connected to the country-wide surveillance, Iliba, of his own. This is an interesting dystopian mystery, futuristic in plot but still containing plenty of mystery, action and twists to suit crime fiction fans. The plotline is well written and I found the characters to be well-developed, with each new piece of information taking me down a path I wouldn’t have guessed. With the technology held within the smart watches a lot of us wear today, it’s not difficult to believe that the creation of something like Iliba could be possible and I feel the author did a brilliant job of setting the scene in a way that is uncanny yet highly believable. An interesting mystery with a dystopian twist that I feel would appeal to fans of either genre.