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Book Reviews Science fiction by Mat Coward: August 7, 2019

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton, The Girl In Red by Christina Henry, The Bone by Garden Heather Kassner and The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion

NARRATED by ST, a foul-mouthed, snack-obsessed crow who identifies as human, Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton (Headline Review, £18-99) takes place in Seattle where a mysterious illness is causing hideous transformations in homo sapiens.

Now robbed of his owner-cum-housemate, and thus in sole charge of a daft dog, ST bravely ventures out in search of still-functioning people. He finds a world which is rapidly erasing all traces of its former masters, as the rest of nature takes over.

If he’s to be of any use to his beloved city, ST must combine his human and crow natures to find his true self.

Funny and sad, Buxton’s fable is also full of purpose and meaning, and ultimately hopeful.

A post-apocalypse novel of a more conventional type is The Girl In Red by Christina Henry (Titan, £7-99), inspired by the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. The girl in the title is in fact a young woman who, as a flu-like plague decimates the population, sets off on foot across the US towards the safety of her grandmother’s cottage in the woods.

She is armed only with an axe, a neurotic tendency to plan for every contingency, and a sarcastic tongue.

One slight disappointment, coming from such a perceptive writer, is that she largely follows the US fictional cliché that in disasters people turn on each other ruthlessly and degenerate to an individualistic condition.

Actual data, as opposed to journalistic anecdote, strongly suggests that the opposite is the case, and that the great majority take the more logical and better-rewarded course of mutual aid. But any minor weaknesses of theme are soon forgotten by the reader caught up in a thrilling and emotionally involving quest story.

“I yam what I yam” has long been one of the most important themes in fiction for young adults. For Irréelle, 11-year-old heroine of Heather Kassner’s hauntingly atmospheric debut The Bone Garden (Titan, £7-99), self-acceptance is especially hard. Clumsy and ill-made, she has been created out of bone-dust and imagination to serve a merciless mistress in her grotesque and tragic obsession.

Constantly reminded that she is not entirely real, and could be unmade at any time, Irréelle’s only chance of a proper life lies in embracing the strengths and the perils of friendship and trust.

Agnes Gomillion’s debut, The Record Keeper (Titan, £8-99), is set a couple of centuries after World War Three, when the remnants of humanity have organised a society of strictly enforced division of labour, based on ethnicity.

Its protagonist, Arika, belongs to the dark-skinned labouring race, but is destined for an elite position within that lowly caste and determined to do whatever it takes to secure her future.

However, a sudden technological change triggers realignment in the ruling class and rebellion amongst the exploited, forcing Arika to abandon her illusions and choose which side she’s on.

This is a rousing, red-blooded tale of revolution, topically savage in its demolition of the false, unsustainable ideology of apartheid.
 
 

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