Archives for posts with tag: dystopian fiction

Victory Day is an elegant and worthy conclusion to a fascinating series. It’s been a real ride following this story’s progress since I read an early version of Battle Ground two years ago.The storytelling gets tighter and tighter the farther along we get. There’s always been tension between the twin antagonists, even when one was in London and the other in Edinburgh, but Churcher ratchets it up in this concluding volume. Bex (‘The Face of the Resistance’) and her former trainer, Corporal Ketty, again tell their sides in short alternating chapters.

In some cases, those chapters are less than a page each, and the sequence in which Bex meets Ketty for the first time since False Flag (book 2) is one of the most heart-racing things I’ve read. I give nothing away by indicating that both have guns and shots are fired.

RMC-BG5-VDI especially liked how this book succeeds in making both Bex and Ketty more sympathetic characters than they were before. Bex had become less likable the more she resisted her role in the bigger conflict at play. Ketty, on the other hand, elicits more sympathy from us the more she learns about the nature of the forces for whom she’s working. This is an especially difficult trick for Churcher to have pulled off – the sheer sadism of some of Ketty’s behavior makes her about as likable as a Bond villain. (She pays a pretty stiff price for her redemption in a sequence that’s oddly, and appropriately, parenthetical in her journey.)

While there’s the tension of the two narrators facing each other as everything they’ve worked for comes to fruition or falls apart, depending on how you look at it, there’s a roll call of supporting characters who we experience through the eyes of both of the narrators. It’s really hard to write this without giving spoilers, because when I say Ketty has an interview with Person X, you readers of books 1-4 will say, ‘Well, it’s not necessarily surprising, but wait a sec, how did we get there?’ You just have to drop a few pounds to find out.

It was really interesting to reread this in its final form, having proofread early drafts of each book. This series takes up the mantle of many other dystopian series of being a warning, not a manual. As times have started to catch up with what was initially a (more) far flung future, some aspects of the books are difficult to read. I’ll be honest: It’s taken me longer to read each book (and not just because Victory Day is about 40% longer than Fighting Back) because I can’t read these things before sleep or in the middle of the night. There’s the page-turning aspect, for certain, but also heartbreaking nearness of what Churcher is confronting. With the UK becoming, it seems, less compassionate and more like the US in how it divides the rich and poor, the idea of a conscripted home force, for example, has almost entered the realm of possibility.

Go over to Taller Books to get the whole set.

Note: I received a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

When we left Bex and Ketty, the protagonists of Rachel Churcher’s Battle Ground series, they were both relatively safe, but Bex’s mother was in Ketty’s clutches down in London.

Bex and her friends, having made it to Scotland to join the Opposition In Exile (OIE), want nothing more than to find a way to attack England’s military government and rescue those who are imprisoned.

At the same time, Ketty is trying to maintain and advance her own career without sacrificing what little integrity she has and without angering the few people who have the power to boot her from the army back to her father.

Separated by several hundred kilometers, Bex and Ketty continue to show a strange doppelgänger nature to their characters. Ketty seems to be the master of her own fate, but knows how tenuous her position is. She remains at the mercy of several military leaders who all have their own agendas. The tension in the story comes from her growing realization that everyone around her seems to know more about her situation than she does.

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Bex, at the same time, isn’t at the mercy of the OIE or the Scottish government, but is under the strict control of both.Her friend Jake, who tries to break this control, finds himself with no freedom at all for much of the story.

In this continuation of Battle Ground, we recognize that Bex is strong and knowledgeable and creative, but still very much a teenager. At the beginning she is unwilling to recognize or bow to the various binds the so-called grownups are in. As the book progresses, she finds her way into the various organizations that have control over her and begins to wield some greater influence. I found this a welcome evolution of her character.

Ketty spends a lot of time still wondering if she’s working for the bad guys, trapped in her situation, but also maintaining her ‘iron fists and steel toecaps’ attitude to the people in her own control.

Churcher does a nice job of setting the reader out at sea with her characters. They tread water, they identify the lifeboats and occasionally realize that the people in the lifeboats are feeding chum to the sharks.

Though it starts a little slowly, the climax of the Fighting Back is (like Darkest Hour), wonderfully cinematic. And as much as I’d like to delve into a proper critique, you just have to read it. Any hints I give would give too much away.

Go over to Taller Books to get all four volumes.

Note: I received a free advance copy of the book for this review.

 

The second novel in Rachel Churcher’s Battle Ground series is a real treat. The scenario is already familiar to readers of the first novel (also called Battle Ground), but now told from the perspective of Ketty, that book’s antagonist. The deal with Ketty in the first book is that we don’t know what makes her evil, we only have Bex’s perspective, and Bex is a relatively good teenager who looks after people. Ketty only looks out for number one. She, along with her colleague Jackson, applies ‘iron fists and steel toe caps’ to maintain her position as Lead Recruit at Camp Bishop, but we have little idea why.
False FlagI won’t be spoilery if you haven’t read Battle Ground, but, this book makes the most sense if you know the other side of the story. (Go over to Taller Books to get it.) Set in a near future England increasingly under martial law (and looking more and more like peri-Brexit Britain), young people are kidnapped into military service to be the government’s ‘front-line dolls’ in its fight against homegrown terrorists (also known as people who want to see Britain returned to democratic rule). The school friends who form the core of the first book’s story don’t take lightly to Ketty’s every-soldier-for-herself method of training and insist on helping one another.
Opening False Flag, we find ourselves looking at the arrival of Bex and her friends at Camp Bishop through Ketty’s eyes and quickly learn why she’s the one assigned to train up/torment new arrivals.
In contrast with the conscripted recruits we learn about in book one, Ketty joined up the first chance she got in order to get away from an alcoholic, abusive father. She learned her discipline the hard way, keeping out from under her father’s anger and violence. Whereas Bex had a loving but slightly difficult home life and friends to lean on for emotional support, Ketty knows that people are only stepping stones to get to the next level and depends only on herself as far as she can.
At its heart, Churcher shows us that Ketty is in many ways everything that Bex isn’t. Bex insists on caring for all those around her while Ketty seems to care only about herself.
The violence that Ketty and Jackson inflict on Bex and her friends is demonstrably sadistic, but we get more and more of the reasons why. Not that we necessarily find her any more likable, but that’s part of the fun.
While these books focus on young adults, the situations and the ways in which Churcher handles them are, by necessity, very grown up. This should appeal to all fans of dystopian fiction (or, as some folks are calling it: Current Events).
Note: I received a free advance copy of the book for this review.

More info at Taller Books.