‘The Rule of One’ – Ashley and Leslie Saunders

In the near-future United States, a one-child policy is ruthlessly enforced. Everyone follows the Rule of One. But Ava Goodwin, daughter of the head of the Texas Family Planning Division, has a secret—one her mother died to keep and her father has helped to hide for her entire life.

She has an identical twin sister, Mira.

Mira and Ava are the twin daughters of a high-ranking government official. Though they break the law daily, nothing about their behaviour suggests why this should be a problem. They play by their father’s rules and yet, very early on in the story, their secret is discovered.

With their father imprisoned and tortured for breaking the law the girls are forced to go on the run and rely on a network of sympathisers to support their attempts to challenge the status quo.

Told from alternating viewpoints we see the girls develop a very clear sense of their own identity and we observe how such a law might affect the world. Things aren’t perfectly resolved, but there’s a definite step in the right direction.

‘The Towering Sky’ – Katharine McGee

Welcome back to New York, 2119. A skyscraper city, fueled by impossible dreams, where the lives of five teenagers have become intertwined in ways that no one could have imagined.

So, last part in the trilogy and I really didn’t know what to expect.

The opening sets up an idea very clearly and had me wondering what on earth might lead to that conclusion. Then our action switches to three months earlier and we are shown some of the details that bring us to the end-point.

I found myself trying to recall some details from the previous two books, but here we see how the teens have been affected by Mariel’s death and the way they’ve been coping with events since then.

Avery has herself a new boyfriend, Max, and is toying with the idea of moving to study in Oxford. But her love for Atlas is not going to die easily, and their father’s election leads to some awkward situations.

Watt and Leda – possibly my favourites of the group – drift together and we see them piecing together the events of the last few months. Rylin and Cord are very different, but we learn sometimes the differences aren’t such a barrier. Calliope, stuck in her con for the first time ever, is struggling to stay true to herself. Thankfully, some matters aren’t left in her hands.

While the ‘ending’ was dramatic, I was pleased that not everything was as clear cut as we expected. I was surprised by one or two revelations, but it felt this could have been tightened up.

‘The Survival Game’ – Nicky Singer

Thank you NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication. A chilling tale of what might yet come to pass.

In our future climate change has reached what might be seen as an inevitable conclusion. Parts of the world are inhospitable. The world’s population is moving northwards and, inevitably, some react better to this than others.

We follow 14-year old Mhairi as she escapes the detention centre she’s placed in after travelling illegally from Cairo following the death of her parents. She is determined to walk to Arran, the home of her grandmother. Along the way she reveals snippets of her story which it might be easy to miss as they’re quite understated. These snippets build a truly terrifying picture of this new reality.

Once she – and a young boy she saves en route – make their way to Arran it would be lovely to think their story was over. Far from it. In fact, it’s once they arrive with Mhairi’s grandmother that the difficult questions start.

Some very difficult questions raised in this, and the ending of the novel rather took my breath away.

‘Vox’ – Christina Dalcher

‘Vox’ is being heralded as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ for a new generation. If that’s the push people need to pick this up then so be it., as this is a book that really should be read. By everyone.

Dr Jean McLellan is an eminent neuroscientist. She has her personal flaws but in her career she was at the forefront of studies into the brain and how it’s impacted by illness. I use the past tense because when we meet Dr Jean her role has been drastically reduced, like that of many women.

In this America women are no longer part of the work force. Their role is to nurture children and keep the home. Their rights have – as we learn in bits and pieces – been eradicated. This alone was enough to anger me, but the fact their voices are taken away was jaw-dropping. Each female wears a wrist counter. It allows them 100 words a day. 100!

The fact that nobody openly questions this tells us just how different things are in this imagined world.

The premise of this story was absorbing. I particularly liked the way we learn how such a situation came into being. Like so many periods in history where such things happen it’s always easy to look on in hindsight and question the actions of those alive at the time. Sadly, Dalcher paints all too vivid a picture of how this came to pass.

The story was chilling as we come to understand just what is at risk here. A timely reminder of the need to question decisions made by those in power.

Thank you NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.

‘The List’ – Patricia Forde

I’m finding it increasingly hard to not be too dismissive of books marketed as middle-grade simply because I’m so far away from the target age of the intended readership. Sometimes, a story comes along that just carries you away regardless of age and though this wasn’t quite there it was a story that I can see appealing to many readers.

John Noa (obvious parallels) is not a man we know much about until later on in the story. However we are told that he is the founder of the new community, Ark, and that he has made many changes to this new society to help them adjust to this future world. He’s no genial gentleman though – his actions throughout the story hint at a steely determination and a willingness to do anything he deems necessary to carry his plans to fruition.

The focus on words is what drew me, and it’s an obvious link to want to feel for the main character Letta whose job is to record the few words prescribed as permissible to use under List. Far too young to be placed in the position she is, her refusal to turn her back on an injured boy leads to some dangerous meetings that have her questioning everything she’s been led to believe.

Throughout, there were many echoes of other well-known stories but I don’t think this is a problem per se. My main issue with the plot was that it was quite predictable and that we never seemed to get a fully-developed sense of the world/people in it.

‘Tarnished City’ – Vic James

Thank you to NetGalley for authorising me to read this. Number two in the series is another cracker, though there are signs that things are changing (and not always for the better).

I admit to being a little scared I would have forgotten details, as it felt a long time since I’d read book one. However, I felt I was quickly taken back to the world and didn’t feel too many details were missing from my mind.

There is a lot of alternating between Luke and Abi following the events of Gilded Cage. Neither is in a good place, but they at least have something to fight for. The Equals we observe are also in pretty dire situations, but some have more of a chance of escape than others.

I felt Tarnished Cage was bold in its attempts to explore the more morally dubious characters. I can’t say I liked many of the characters/ideas we come across, but James portrays them with skill. It was interesting to see their motivation, but there’s still an awful lot we’re not being told.

In many ways this was bleaker than Gilded Cage, but I got a sense of how events were moving on. I’m very excited to see where we go in the final part of the trilogy.

‘The Power’ – Naomi Alderman

‘The Power’ is a book I’d been desperate to read since I first heard about it, but it has taken me a long time to get round to.

My initial reaction upon finishing the book was one of bemusement. In this novel Alderman highlights issues of gender and power in contemporary society, by turning our expectations and norms on their head.

I liked the fact the book focused on four separate characters during this time, but that inevitably led to a sense of detachment as we never fully get under their skin and jumping from one to the other means the links between their stories aren’t always clear.

I found the basic premise of the girls’ power fascinating, but it seemed to descend into abuse of such magnitude that I felt a real bleakness towards people and their basic humanity.

While this book seems to fit into science-fiction/dystopian writing, I think the messages it gives us about how we live now are really depressing.

I can admire much about how this has been constructed, and the writing style but it was an unnerving experience and one that I’m left uncertain about how to respond to.

‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ – M.R. Carey

I admit to watching ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ’28 Days Later’ and even laughing at the zombie street pimps scene in ‘Hollywood Shuffle’, but I would never call myself a fan of the zombie movie/novel. A reading challenge I was involved in this month meant ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ was one of my first reads…and I was uncertain what I’d make of it.

We’re told that in the future a strange fungus has changed virtually everyone into a thoughtless, flesh-eating monster. Known as ‘hungries’ these monsters are pretty efficient killers – once they’ve picked up a scent. However, there are some who do not appear to be quite the same as the others.

Our story begins with a truly awful opening, showing us our main character Melanie being strapped into her chair and taken to a classroom where she is taught along with a small group of other children. The purpose of their lessons is simply to monitor the extent to which they can retain information and to allow the scientists working with them to try and find a cure to save humanity.

Watching events through Melanie’s eyes is upsetting. They are treated with little humanity and this is hard to take – until we get a stark reminder of what happens to these children when they get a whiff of human flesh.

While this is all well and good, a whole book focused on a dead child – albeit one with a genius IQ – would not be entertaining. So, alongside Melanie we have a cast of very different adults who become central to Melanie’s existence.

I loved the way we slowly get to know more of the background to these characters as the story progresses. Dr Caldwell was, in my mind, a real monster – but deliberately so as she juxtaposes the more nurturing and caring character of Melanie’s teacher Miss Justineau. I came to really admire this disparate group as they take amazing risks in order to try and help one another.

Unexpectedly thought-provoking (though I will always be tempted to skip the more graphic descriptions of flesh-eating) and I’m not surprised this has been turned into a movie. I would have liked to know more about the background to the virus, and am definitely going to look at the second book by Carey – ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ – which is set about a decade prior to the events of this novel.

‘Contagion’ – Teri Terry

The first in a new Terry trilogy, ‘Contagion’ is a book that packs a punch.

Our story focuses firstly on a young girl, Callie, who went missing a year ago. She isn’t clear where she is – or even what she is – but she knows she is in an underground bunker, and that the people within its confines are experimenting with something.

Alongside Callie we are introduced to Shay, a teenage girl, who is struggling to fit into her new home in Scotland. She recognises a picture on a missing poster, and realises that she might well have been the last person to see this young girl alive. Of course, the girl she saw was Callie (it always helps for the stories to merge somewhere) and it helps that the brother desperately searching for Callie is not unattractive.

‘Contagion’ was a curious mix of genres – romance, thriller, dystopian – but I really liked the telling of the story through the two different viewpoints. It allowed us to do a little joining of the dots, and to get under the skin of the characters a little better.

As it becomes clear that there’s some form of contagion spreading through the country we join Shay and Callie in their attempts to work out who’s responsible, and how the country can fight back. I couldn’t have predicted some of the details that get dropped on us, but the writing about the fall-out of this spreading menace was horribly realistic.

My only real gripe with the novel was the fact that it ends with us still none the wiser about what has been happening. We have a couple of hints, but everything is left quite open. Frustrating, perhaps, but it has definitely left me desperate to get my hands on part two as soon as I can.

A huge thank-you to Teri Terry, publishers Hachette and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication in mid-May 2017.

‘King’s Cage’ – Victoria Aveyard

I admit to having mixed feelings about this third in the series. It was slow to get going and did, too frequently, feel like a bit of a filler, but it really picked up the pace just over halfway through. By the end I was feeling more than a little wrung out – and now I’m desperate to see where Aveyard takes things in the final instalment.

Our story begins with Mare having been taken prisoner by the new King. She is kept bound in manacles, Maven desperate to take away her lightning power. Though Mare and Cal have been desperate to see the best in Maven – laying the blame for his personality at the hands of his mother – it becomes increasingly clear that he is just as dangerous as she ever hoped he would be.

The initial chapters focus on establishing the stifling atmosphere in which Mare is kept. She is a powerful trophy prisoner, Maven using her to manipulate others within his kingdom. However, alongside this we see the planning and training that the Scarlet Guard/Reds and their supporters are putting in place.

Switching views as we do can, on occasion, mean a frustrating wait to pull together the pieces. However, as we put things together it is clear that we are about to get a humdinger of a story as everything comes together.

There was so much to love about this: some cracking battle scenes; graphic descriptions of the battles and training; a wonderful reconciliation between the characters of Cal and Mare; a hint that sometimes help comes from unexpected quarters, and the most heart-wrenching ending ever (though we kind of know to expect it, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept).

With part four expected in February 2018 we’re in for a tense wait. Personally, I’m torn between hoping Cal and Mare get their happy ending and waiting for chinks in the Maven-bad-guy persona. Whichever way it goes, I have a feeling I’m going to like this!