Blackbrooke by Emma Silver
I had seen the marketing for Emma Silver’s Blackbrooke on Twitter and was intrigued by the premise: due to the town of Blackbrooke being harassed by dangerous Crits walking the streets at night, the area has been fenced off from the Outside. Blackbrooke residents must follow a series of rules which include staying inside after curfew and having triple glazed windows. The long nights make winter hard and ‘walk outs’ are inevitable. Seventeen year old Liberty Conner begins to notice some odd behaviour and patterns in Blackbrooke and seeks to find out the truth before time runs out. I had it at the top of my ‘to read’ list on an earlier blog about YA fiction (Dystopian Survival) and started reading it last Friday.
I was gripped from the first page of this novel and became annoyed when I had to take a break from reading it! I often have a YA book on the go that I can dip into every so often when I am busy but I have to say that I read this book in two sittings. I enjoy YA fiction. As an adult I realise I am not the target audience so I am often rather forgiving when plot weaknesses and somewhat predictable characters pop up. Much to my delight, I found none of these flaws in Blackbrooke.
Emma Silver has done a remarkable job of creating three-dimensional characters; each character is unique and believable. The relationships between the characters are also clear and thoughtful. There is an obvious personal history between the characters that has developed over the years as a result of living in such an insulated town. The imaginative plot also seemed believable. The only thing I did wonder about every so often when I took a brief break was, Unless I missed something, why didn’t the residents just vacate the town when the rules were established? However, once I got back to the story I forgot all about this! The author has also created a believable setting. The town of Blackbrooke is somewhere in the mysterious north of England. There are only about 10,000 residents and the feelings of claustrophobia and depression permeate the story, particularly when the dark winter nights close in. For an imaginative story there is a reasonable amount of social realism included.
Due to the more sophisticated writing style, some of the themes and the raunchy elements that are included, this is a book for older teens. It is one of the best books I have read recently and stands heads and shoulders above other YA books. Secondary school libraries should have it on their shelves and adults who are interested in trying YA fiction will probably find themselves pleasantly surprised. I look forward to the second book in the series that is due for release in the summer.
Blackbrooke: 5 Stars
Crooked Cat Publishing are clearly able to identify a great writer. Blackbrooke was the first book I read from this publishing house and I would now like to try a couple more of their books. I have added these three adult fiction books to my ‘to read’ list:
A Guide to Becoming Distinctively Average – Amy Elliott-Smith. Humour / Contemporary Fiction about a 30-something dog groomer questioning life.
Dragon Ring – Maggie Secara. First in a Fantasy series about a reality TV host who owes the King of the Faeries a favour.
How to Look Like You – Rose McClelland. A chick lit story about frenemies.
Cover of The Hunger Games
I once heard a comment that Lord of the Flies was like, Gone, but in Gone they get to eat people too. Ah, the horrors of dystopian futures! Are some older novels no longer timeless?
The sensation of The Hunger Games had me intrigued. I avoided reading it for a while in case fighting to the death proved too gory for my delicate constitution. However, once I started I couldn’t stoop. While I didn’t read the three books in quick succession, I did finish each of them in one sitting. The chapters always ended in such a way that I was lured into starting the next. I am someone who has from a young age enjoyed the idea of post-apocalyptic or chaotic worlds (Robert O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah, for instance) and Suzanne Collins didn’t disappoint. However, I did feel that she had in some ways created a pastiche of ideas that had been used before. As I was reading, the following stories quickly came to mind:
- Hatchet (Gary Paulson) and My Side of the Mountain (Jean George) both detail surviving in the wild. My concerns about gore in The Hunger Games were dismissed when I realised the bulk of the time in the arena is spent finding food, shelter and water, and hiding from danger. Ultimately, The Hunger Games is an old fashioned survival story.
- Tomorrow when the War Began – John Marsden. A 1990s YA war series about a group of teenagers in country Australia fighting to survive against the ruling army. Filled with weapons, danger, hunger and refugees. Is Ellie no longer bold enough to be a contemporary heroine?
- The famous American gothic short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson describes villagers being selected for a gruesome fate.
- The cult Japanese movie Battle Royale (this one is according to my husband). Based on his descriptions, among other things the ‘giant clock’ in Catching Fire seems to resemble the destruction patterns in Battle Royale.
All this being said, I did enjoy the series and thought that movie was excellent. I only watched the movie this past weekend which is partly why I am inspired to write this blog today. The contrast between the Captial and District 12 was stunning to see. I did not expect the fashions in the Capital to resemble the ostentatious couture of the French Revolution and I was surprised that Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna was not more flamboyant! The Victorian poverty and dull colours in District 12 also added to the story. While both locations were described well in the novels, I felt that Suzanne Collins was not always convincing enough with the setting and SF elements. For example, some miracles of futuristic science and medicine seemed to solve plot problems too easily, while other storylines grew only because what you would imagine to be a simpler discovery was not yet made. There didn’t seem to be a pattern with the names either and it was not clear why certain people had Latin names and others did not.
My favourite of the three books is the third, Mockingjay. It is a darker book with cat and mouse elements. Some people I have spoken to found this book too unnerving but I found it was a nice break from the first two which had somewhat similar plots.
One other successful YA novel set in a dystopian future is Hollowland by Amanda Hocking. In a USA ravaged by war, the zombie threat means survivors are placed in secure facilities. Vigilantes and religious cults have bunkered down and stockpiled arms. Remy is separated from her brother and, carrying a family secret, she travels across the country to find him. I found this novel to be convincing throughout, even with the random sounding inclusions of a pop star and a tame lion. It is a little short at 290 pages but it is sharp throughout. Hocking has avoided padding out the story – a skill by which all authors should abide. Hollowland should have a wider reputation than it currently does. It is only available as an ebook so this may be why.
Similar YA dystopian books at the top of my to read list:
And two more, perhaps suited to adults:
If you have any more suggestions please get in touch.