The concept here is a fascinating one, that the modern UK suddenly found itself back in time to a couple of years before the Norman Conquest. Within this framework the author has obviously done some research and has a certain facility with creating at least some interesting characters; although some of them are clearly based upon some real Government figures and political bias’ are clear in these cases.
However I was somewhat disappointed with the execution and with some of the conceits of the story: why do some of the people wear the rags or remains of their smart suits? Why not jeans and jackets? These people surely didn’t just have wardrobes dominated by business attire, I have a number of smart suits but I think I would wear something more practical if I had to suddenly do work in a field. Similarly I found the ending to be something of a deus ex machina and involving some character changes that appeared to be more to do with expediency than with natural development.
So overall a decent read, but not more than that.
Published on Amazon, 19th September 2017
If you're hoping for… well, anything remotely understandable to happen within this book, prepare to be disappointed. Not only does this book suffer from trying to emulate the totalitarian British dystopia of Alan Moore's "V for Vendetta" (spoiler alert: it can't), but it also suffers from "The Giver"-esque excessive capital letter use. There are no helpful infodumps or vivid flashbacks to help illuminate the backstory of The Break's aftermath, and the reader is reduced to looking to the blurb at the back of the book for more context. The main characters are reduced to tropes as they 'try' to puzzle their way through the national and inter-worldly conspiracy that the UK government is involved in. Only a few pages attempt to show the world of medieval Europe, and the rest of the time, we're in the ugly concrete ruins of greater London (a minor quibble, but if you were hoping for medieval atmosphere and adventure that the blurb questions promised…).
As for the other issue… The romance is quietly building in the first half, but in the second half, Blake suddenly seems to have decided that no, it is very important after all, and forces the two main characters into a marriage of plot convenience. And love? I mean, they're teenagers in a dystopia, but even other characters of other books like Divergent's Tris or The Hunger Games' Katniss had a slower courtship. Their dizzying political ascension in the epilogue – while kind of mirroring the originally left-handed marriage of Justinian I and Theodora in the 6th century – is both unbelievable (when? how old are they? why? who is supporting them?) as well as completely expected (their extreme strokes of luck are rewarded by Blake in a characteristically hurried and overblown fashion).
The writing itself was okay. The plot was also… okay. But the issues listed above have kind of killed any joy I might have had reading it. If you want the 'modern world through medieval eyes' experience, read better books. Or fanfiction. But don't waste your time with this one. Not even the happy end will make you happy.
Review published on the 16th March 2017
A post-apocalyptic thriller by Richard Blake
Published 28th April 2016 by Caffeine Nights
Note: March 2018 – it’s now eleven months since the whole of the mainland UK was carried back nearly a thousand years, to be dropped into the year 1065. Jennifer is sixteen, and she lives in Deal on the East Kent Coast. She survived the resulting starvation and collapse into tyranny because of her father’s smuggling business carried on across the English Channel. In this extract from chapter one, she is riding through the village of St Margaret’s back to Deal after another trip across the Channel.
Once through the village and on to Station Road, Jennifer went into top gear. It was a road of steep descents and rises. But, if she could build up enough momentum going down, she could usually coast all the way to the top again. The main obstacle to this was knowing when to begin swerving to avoid the hole in the road, where, shortly after The Break, someone had filled his car with a petrol substitute, and it had gone up in a ball of flame visible from Ramsgate.
Mostly, she had to keep her eyes on the road for broken glass and other obstacles. Every so often, though, as she sped downhill, she allowed her self to look over the trees and luxuriant hedges that lined the road. It was still barely six in the morning – English time, that is. But she could already see the long lines of people in the fields as they went about the work that had to be done, of guaranteeing the first proper harvest since The Break.
Another ten minutes, and she was at the junction with London Road. Turning left here would take her uphill to the Dover Roundabout where the A2 began. Right would lead down, through Walmer, to Deal. It was at this junction that the local Hill of the Dead had been created. There had been perhaps only five thousand bodies from Deal to be buried. The great majority of those who’d starved to death, or been killed in The Pacification, were from Dover. But it was here that the bodies had been heaped up and covered with earth. Jennifer stopped and looked again at the mound. It was only ten months since the army of diggers had finished their job. Since then, however, three seasons of the year had done their work. Smoothed over and covered in grass, the mound was already becoming as fixed and as natural a part of the landscape as the memorials set up to the lesser catastrophes of war.
It wasn’t even a year – but it might have been a decade, or a whole age, for all that had passed. Jennifer could remember the day, when, after endless assurances in the media that everything was under control, the shops had run out of food. Or, if there was still food, no one had been allowed the fuel to transport it. The looting of homes had begun within hours. It was now that those who’d previously broken the law, and accumulated weapons against a chance of breakdown that few really believed would come, could think themselves lucky. But they were the minority. The begging – by those who hadn’t stocked up, or had lost their stocks at gunpoint, or those who had neither contacts nor things that others wanted to buy – had been pitiable. The frantic pleas of the starving had been terrible to behold – terrible and, once the police began raiding anyone who, by giving charity, showed he had a surplus, quite unavoidable. It had toughened those who had. It had prepared those who had not, but who still managed to survive, for their place in the new order of things. And, once the gulf of The Hunger had been crossed, this new order had emerged as quickly and as logically as the movement of iron filings in a magnetic field.
Jennifer let her eyes rest on the Hill of the Dead. So many times she’d seen it. So many times, she’d passed it by with a shudder, or with indifference. Now, she watched as perhaps fifty labourers were allowed their time for the morning remembrance. There was Mrs Harding, the lawyer, digging tool in both hands, her lean and toughened body still wrapped in the rags that had been her business suit. There was Jennifer’s Science teacher. His face was in shadow under his hat, and she couldn’t see the branding mark left there after he’d been denounced for cutting down a tree to keep warm. There was the little man who’d used to sell expensive chinaware from a shop in Deal. They were the lucky ones – those who had once gambled on, and appeared to do well from, a division of labour that no longer made sense, and who had survived the collapse of the old world. They stood together in memory of those they had lost, their right hands clenched into fists and beating out on their chests the now customary pattern of despair. But the ruddy man on horseback now rang his bell, and it was back to the endless work of hoeing and trenching and weeding.
Once everyone was back to work, Jennifer looked over the miles of farming land that stretched before her. There was a time when she’d have needed to wait for a gap in traffic that raced in both directions. Though she looked from habit up and down the road, all was peaceful here. The only sound was of twittering birds too small to be hunted, and of trees that sighed gently in the breeze. She turned right, and, squeezing gently on the brakes, was carried downhill again. There was a minute of pedalling as she crept uphill towards the old service station where Slovak immigrants had once earned a few pounds by washing cars. After this, it would be an easy ride back to the coast.
As she reached the edge of the built-up area, she had to give more attention again to the road. The cars themselves had long since been requisitioned for scrap. But quite a few of the owners had made sure to vandalise their property first. Even before then, cars had often been ripped open by armed men to get at the petrol. The road hereabout still had the occasional cube of glass to be avoided. Braking, she lost most of her speed, and was now coasting forward at little more than a brisk walking pace
Imagine waking up one day and discovering that, although your country has not changed, the rest of the world has. You find that while your immediate surroundings have not altered, everything outside your country has inexplicably reverted to a time of about a millennium ago.
This is the setting of Richard Blake's new novel The Break: In the year 2017, after days of violent storms, which ground all planes and force all ships into harbour, modern Britain, with all its cars, TVs, smartphones, CCTV cameras, unaccountable police and militant political correctness, finds itself surrounded by a world which considers the year to be AD 1064. The cities of mainland Europe have disappeared or contracted to clusters of a few thousand thatched houses. Roads, railway lines and canals have all vanished. The rest of the continent consists mainly of forest and other uncultivated land. Further south, the Byzantine Empire is still going strong – just. The great schism that split the early church into an eastern Orthodox and western Catholic branch happened only 10 years previously. And the Normans have yet to invade England.
The Break is a gripping tale. Full of mystery, suspense, terror, action, heroism, evil connivance and romance. But it is much more than that.
There are legions of science fiction novels in which an individual or small group is somehow channelled into another world and/or another time. But for a whole nation to suddenly find itself thus transported, that is rare. Maybe even unique. How this ‘break’ has happened is only hinted at, never fully explained. This is immaterial however, because Blake’s setting allows him to turn his dystopian novel into a brilliant political allegory, satire, polemic and warning. The author of twelve – for the most part – historical novels is thereby following the glorious tradition of his fellow countrymen Jonathan Swift, George Orwell and C.S. Lewis.
The Break is a warning because transporting modern Britain into medieval times is basically equivalent to any modern, highly developed country suddenly finding itself in a world where the international division of labour has broken down. Equivalent therefore to what might happen any time now in developed countries if, say, the monetary system broke down more completely than in 2008. That is to say: If, which is likely, at the same time the government prevented a transition to a natural monetary order based on real value. The results would be nothing short of catastrophic. In the Britain of The Break, thousands, if not millions die of hunger and disease, and in the general violence that ensues once the shops have run out of supplies. The corpses need to be piled into huge mounds around the country. Many survivors have to work the soil simply in order to live. Freeways become oversized walkways. Big cities like London almost suffocate in smog. Some people revert to cannibalism. Inevitable riots are broken up by helicopter gunships. Muslim suicide bombers in Oxford Street add to the generally apocalyptic vision that Gabb paints for us.
In this dislocated and traumatised Britain we meet 16-year-old Jennifer. After the ‘break’, her parents had started a successful business smuggling modern amenities such as tampons and paracetamol across the English Channel to the Normans and Flemish in exchange for silver and gold. The girl has probably been homeschooled, because she already knows enough Latin to talk fluently with medieval acquaintances. But now her parents have mysteriously disappeared, possibly abducted by the British government. In her desperate search for them, Jennifer follows clues that lead her ever closer to a dark and dangerous conspiracy that somehow seems connected to the weird condition her world is now in.
Another character who appears on the scene is Michael, a young emissary from Constantinople. His homeland is under pressure from both Saracens and Turks: Muslim forces pushing north and west into the Byzantine realm. He hopes to gain support from this new, strange and powerful Britain that has suddenly replaced the backwater ex-outpost of the sunken Western Roman Empire. It is an intriguing juxtaposition that Blake makes here: Modern Britain, a country that has recently lost its empire, is now in a position to help another empire which is in danger of dying – an empire which for centuries had prevented forces from the Orient from entering Europe, allowing, as Gabb tells us, Western civilisation to prosper. Whether one agrees with him nor not, this is entertainment on a high intellectual level.
No less entertaining is Blake’s description of the measures the government takes to manage the task of re-establishing its preferred version of internal order. Shockingly (or perhaps not), all he needs to do is slightly exaggerate what his government is doing anyway in real life. Basically, any pretence of democracy and freedom is abandoned in favour of outright tyranny. There is obfuscation in the regime media: no one can deny that modern Britain has been placed into medieval times, but no one in power admits it either. The return to normality is just around the corner, they say. Bureaucracy is inept and out of control. Amusingly, while the government is trying to find its country’s place in the new (i.e. old) world, it insists on what is now completely anachronistic political correctness.
Why does the government choose this mode of action? One of the characters allows us an insight into the author’s thinking: “They’ll never give up control. They’ve finally got the police state they always wanted, and they’ll restrain any urges to world conquest until they’ve broken us to unthinking obedience.” Blake is never more scathing and penetrating in his critique of corrupt state villainy than when he exposes the narcissism at the heart of the evil power-grab on which his story hinges. And this is not just about Britain. Rather surprisingly, the United States federal government has a role to play in the climax of Gabb’s dystopia. You’ll have to read it though to find out in what way.
The Break enables us to observe our modern civilization from a medieval perspective. Again, these observations are often surprising and thought-provoking. As when Michael, the Byzantine protagonist, thinks that “this house, so far as he could see, was a single block, with glazed windows on every side. England must long have been a very safe country if the rich could trust themselves in the like.” The reader then finds himself thinking: How much longer will we still be safe in unfortified houses such as these? Especially (in particular in the case of Britain) if normal, law-abiding people are unarmed?
In some other respects, to the man from Constantinople the modern world seems to have reverted to much older and barbaric ways. From Michael’s point of view our current ‘liberated’ approach to sex is nothing but a re-establishment of the “Old Faith” (of ancient Greece and Rome before Christianity) and a bikini-clad woman in a holiday resort advert appears to him to be “a dancing prostitute”.
Speaking of which, it is noteworthy that in this novel Blake refrains from graphic descriptions of sex and debauchery. They are of course hinted at – the depiction of a nation in terminal decline would not be complete without them. But the author does not insult his readers’ intelligence by joining the ranks of today’s many authors who, following what they deem to be the Zeitgeist, liberally spread written triggers of libidinous Pavlovian reflexes. Blake does not need them to keep his readers engaged.
The Break is a thrilling masterpiece by an experienced and established novelist. At the same time it is an unsparing and consummate exposition and critique of our modern so-called civilization. I have read all of Blake’s novels. They are all good, but this one is his best so far. Apparently, it’s been nominated for the Prometheus Award. I’m not surprised.
Birthday presents rarely come with IOUs attached to them, but maybe this general maxim doesn’t extend to birthday presents given by novelists. And so, the below, is my feeble attempt at repaying the debt I incurred to Richard Blake, author of ‘The Break’, by ageing a year.
To call the setting of the novel ‘futuristic’ would only be the half of it. The Break is the colloquial name given to a freak accident whereby Nature – or God – saw fit to plonk 21st century England right in the middle of the 11th century AD. On mainland Europe, then, the Byzantine Empire still breathes, the Crusades have not yet been called, and William the Bastard is Duke of Normandy. In Britain, there is a veritable police-state run by a matching – if slightly amplified – set of demagogues to those ruling Britain today. If I were living in the post-Break England, I know where I’d go. But that’s just it: contact with ‘Outsiders’ is expressly forbidden!
Immediately, the libertarian reader will see parallels between this and the Ayn Rand novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’. In ‘Atlas Shrugged’ a series of catastrophes foist themselves upon the heroic industrialists of the novel. The government, too, in ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has become a totalitarian state, issuing tirelessly an unceasing string of socialist directives aimed at improving the ‘general welfare’ of the people – all in the name of the ‘common good’. Disaster after disaster transpires, and Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden – the two most profit-loving, dollar-sign-worshipping, big businesspeople in non-Galt’s Gulch America are the protagonists.
In addition to Rand’s writing style veering between the Biblical and the Shakespearean, and never missing an opportunity to write a page about cigarette smoke, or tens of pages in one sitting about Objectivist epistemology, the book has many faults. For one thing, she tries unsuccessfully in over one thousand pages to do what Richard Blake has done successfully in three hundred. That is, to place calamity and chaos in the background in such a way that the reader feels the events of the novel could just as easily have happened to his world or his society as to the one about which he is reading. Rand tries extraordinarily, unbelievably, exceptionally hard – and fails. What makes it all the more spectacular is that Gabb wrote his masterpiece in about six weeks, the first of the forty seven chapters being written in a coffee shop the day he thought the whole thing up. Rand, I believe, took a few years.
And then there’s also that peculiar dictum in Atlas: none of Rand’s characters are likeable. Perhaps it’s because she had too many of them and didn’t give herself the time to develop any of them properly. But, this theory falls short, because she had and took all the time in the world to write the damned novel and because Dagny is very much in the foreground. And still I can’t bring myself to like her. Why that is, I can’t be sure. There’s certainly no shortage of rational and intelligent thought and action emanating from Ms Taggart and there’s even romance between her and another big businessperson. I, personally, don’t see the need for Rand to give all of her ‘heroes’ narcissistic personality disorder, but whatever the potential of the characters, there’s little with which you can relate. Sure, you can hate with a scorching passion the villains of the novel, but hate is an easier emotion to stir up than are love, excitement, and empathy.
Jennifer – the first of the two main characters to be introduced – is a young, adventurous teenage girl who, upon her arrival back home in Kent from 11th century France, finds that her parents have been ‘taken’. She knows, in the context of post-Break “Where are your papers?” England, what this means, even if the reader doesn’t. How I’d deal with news like this, I do not know, but what I can be sure of is that each would deal with it in his own way. It doesn’t matter when you’re reading ‘The Break’ though, because the character becomes you and you become the character, owing to the skilful way in which the narration is done. Very much used to being ogled and occasionally groped, one gets the impression that post-Break England in which Jennifer is living has become more depraved than nineteen seventies cinema. Jennifer, somewhat further into the novel, is not just intent upon finding – or avenging? – her parents, but on learning more about just what is going on in England – a question Gabb never gives us, the readers, the answer to on a silver platter. With no pride and with friends in high places – or so she thinks – Jennifer is a feisty character who poses as big a threat as anyone else to the security of the British State!
From the other side of Europe, and a thousand years ago, Michael and his Uncle Simeon are sent as Ambassadors from Byzantium to approach this magical land of England where carriages move without horses, the natives communicate through little boxes, and the squeezing of a small lever can send a metal ball forward with enough momentum to kill a man on the spot, to ask for their assistance against their hostile neighbours. Here we experience, after having already seen a similar ability to empathise with a character earlier on, Gabb’s effortless transplanting of Michael’s eyes into our own sockets. Just what would 21st century England look like through the eyes of an ancient? Not telling, you’ll have to read the book for that. And in a twist reminiscent of Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of a New York Mayor battling with Alzheimer’s, the teenage Michael has his own problems which he fights fiercely hard to overcome.
Yes, the novel is a compilation of many things good about the author: his knowledge of Byzantine history, as also seen in his Aelric series, written under the pen-name, Richard Blake; his libertarianism; and his knowledge of the various Kentish A-roads. So we therefore see not only pages upon pages of map references throughout for those readers who can be bothered, but also a vivid and chilling depiction of how our tolerant and multicultural society could end up no more liberal and open-minded than those Turks blowing themselves up in the middle of London within the novel. And this novel is also an illustration of perhaps why Gabb has such a reputation for being ‘anti-American’ – which he says is “unjust”. As usual it turns out to be the Americans who are partly behind the quest for conquest and colonisation of the as yet untransformed and unhomesteaded world, but this time, it is time itself that could be their ‘weapon of mass destruction’. With this much given away, I’ll leave you guessing as to whether the novel has a happy ending or not.
Further to all this, Blake, himself anything but anti-technology, opens our eyes to the sinister side of technology – the possible uses of technology against humanity itself – resulting from increasing levels of government ‘investment’ and ‘research’. If it turns out the State we know and despise is even half as advanced as the one in ‘The Break’ then I’ll never sleep again.
Any negatives. Well, perhaps Blake should sack his proof-readers. The odd misplaced comma I can ignore. The occasional missing speech mark, ditto. “Chapter Forty Fice”, however, I can’t. However, we need to bear in mind that this is a better book than Ayn Rand’s drivel, even if hers is ‘silly mistake-free’. Also, yet this could be due to the fact that I never did read fiction as a young child and so haven’t developed the capacity to quickly paint mental pictures and quickly understand alien concepts, some of the machinery and some of the physics might have done with an extra paragraph of explanation, but there would be a very fine line to tread in this respect between subtly elucidating and going into a full-fledged James Bond villain confession. Oh, and Madsen Pirie was mentioned. But, then again, he wasn’t mentioned in a flattering light I suppose. He is painted as he appears: the Establishment Libertarian who’d be the first to rub shoulders with Basil Radleigh if he were real.
All-in-all, then, the best fiction book I’ve read in a long time. The best recently published (in the last few years) I have read. It has everything: really good, mindless, yet necessary, violence; a struggle for power; chases; philosophy; romance; Big Business; the lot. As such, it must appeal to everyone. Even Moslems, who, I must say, aren’t actually demonised in the way any other writer might demonise them, but instead they are shown to be cruelly manipulated and regarded as vermin by the British State. A thoroughly enjoyable read, even if the tragic and sudden death of one character left me cursing the author’s name.
So the moral of this story, it is easy for to tell, if you want to play with God’s Laws, you’ve got to go to Hell!
‘The Break’ is the latest book by Richard blake, and another that explores another alternate timeline of the UK, as well as the amusing political outcomes of said universe. ‘The Break’ is set in the UK in 2018, in the aftermath of a disastrous event (the break) that has taken modern Britain and thrown her back near enough 1,000 years in time, or put her in an alternate universe in the more accurate sense. Most of the story is based around the quest of a young girl who needs to find her parents who have gone missing during her time abroad in Normandy. The other main character is the nephew of a Byzantine diplomat who have come to England to meet her rulers.
The characters in ‘The Break’ are very believable, and are very fitting for the way that the storyline unfolds; particularly so when the two main story-lines intertwine towards the end of the book. The events that the book revolves around are also very believable, and present a fairly satirical, yet scarily accurate view of the modern world, which shows that our long dead ancestors were probably much more decent and socially advanced than our own world is.
The UK in the world of ‘The Break’ is a police-state where the government controls what people can say or do. People are required to carry identification cards at all times, and there is a clear distinction between the lives of the political elite and the lives of everyone else who live under the boot of their government. It is clear that much of the political satire that is explored in ‘The Break’ shows us a mirror image of our own world, if exaggerated to show where it could potentially head under current conditions.
Blake does an excellent job throughout of gradually raising the suspense and intrigue of the plot, allowing it to simmer to the point where the hidden aspects of the plot come together, revealing the reason for everything that has happened during and before the events of the book. The way that he blurs the line between the fictional world in his books and reality brings up many moments that will make you both grin and cringe at the same time as you see the relevance to your own life. In short, this is an excellent book which, although slow at the start, will make you not want to put it down once you get further along the storyline.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m already looking forward to getting my next book of Blake’s once I have finished with my current libertarian book (‘The Market for Liberty). This book is very relevant and enjoyable for both libertarians and non-libertarians alike, and I highly recommend getting it.
Published on Amazon
A post-apocalyptic thriller by Richard Blake
Published 28th April 2016 by Caffeine Nights
It’s Wednesday the 7th March 2018 – in the mainland UK. Everywhere else, it’s June 1065.
No one knows what caused The Break eleven months ago, but there’s no sign of its end. England is settling into its new future a reindustrialising concentration camp. The rest of the world is watching…waiting…curious…
Jennifer thinks her family survived The Hunger because of their smuggling business – tampons and paracetamol to France, silver back to England. Little does she know what game her father was really playing, as she recrosses the Channel from an Impromptu mission of her own. Little can she know how her life has already been torn apart.
Who has taken Jennifer’s parents? Where are they? What is the Home Secretary up to with the Americans? Why is she so desperate to lay hands on Michael? Will Jesus Christ return to Earth above Oxford Circus? When will the “Doomsday Project” go live?
Can the Byzantine Empire and the Catholic Church take on the British State, and win?
All will be answered – if Jennifer can stay alive in a post-apocalyptic London terrorised by cannibals, by thugs in uniform, and by motorbike gangs of Islamic suicide bombers.